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'Yes, I Am a Teacher in a Public Charter School!'

Note: Members and staff of the Association of American Educators will be guest posting this week. AAE is a professional association for educators and the nation's largest non-union teachers' association. Today's post is authored by AAE member Jomayra I. Torres, the lead 5th grade teacher at BelovED Community Charter School in Jersey City, New Jersey, and the New Jersey Charter Schools Association's 2014 Teacher of the Year.

I've been a teacher in a public charter school for four years. Before entering the teaching profession, I was a student in the local public school district for about thirteen years of my life. As the eldest of eight children, I am the only one to graduate from the district public high school, attend college, and begin a career. As a child, I had an innate passion for learning and felt that only a handful of teachers throughout my youth had that same passion for teaching. While I wasn't always sure what type of school I'd end up in, I've spent my career at BelovED Community Charter School, an independent, high-performing public charter school in Jersey City, New Jersey. 

"YES, I am a teacher in a charter school!" These words can be controversial in some circles. I have had many a debate with colleagues who work in the public school district about my choice to serve students in an urban charter environment. Despite serving millions of students and employing thousands of educators across the country, these laboratory-like schools are still misunderstood in many communities.

YES, I am a teacher in a charter school that is publicly funded and open to anyone who applies, including a vast number of English as a second language learners and students with special needs. I work in a charter school where every student from K-4 knows my name and I know theirs. I work in a charter school that provides chances for learning not only inside the classroom, but also outside through our range of in-school and off-campus activities, many of which are developed with the assistance of a strong Parent—Teacher Organization. I work in a charter school where educators are so dedicated to the success and well-being of our scholars that they write numerous grants to help develop programs for our students that will teach them life and social skills.

Most charter school teachers work long hours and are paid less than their counterparts in the district schools. Yet the freedom I have is well worth the tradeoffs. Free from union contracts, teachers are able to help choose and improve school curriculum resources that best fit the needs of their classrooms. We are treated as equals and involved in all aspects of the school community. We are not just educators in a system—we are members of a community that values our ideas and experience. We are given a voice. It is in this innovative environment that I've been able to experience the flexibility and autonomy that I've always envisioned for my career.

I know from experience that great teachers make the difference for kids. The vast majority of my colleagues enter the profession with dreams of changing lives and impacting communities. Nowhere is that passion that I sought in my teachers more prevalent than in the educators I have had the honor of working with at BelovED.  

According to a membership survey by the Association of American Educators, the largest national non-union educators' organization, teachers everywhere are open to policies that advance choice and innovation. As a member, I couldn't be more proud that my colleagues are embracing the wave of the future of education.

Specifically, an overwhelming 97% of AAE members support public charter schools as options for both students and teachers alike. Clearly, there is an understanding among educators that options for students are beneficial and that educators in turn can reap rewards.

YES, I am a teacher in a charter school, and I believe that a one-size-fits-all model does nothing but impede success. I am a teacher in a charter school, and I know that school choice works.

--Jomayra I. Torres

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