I had never heard of a public charter school prior to starting my career in education as a teacher in 2011. To be honest, the type of school model was the last thing I was considering at that time; I was just so eager to begin my career in the classroom. I didn’t care where I taught. I just wanted to do my part to provide a quality education for my students.
But my time in the classroom opened my eyes to the impact of school choice in our country.
In my first year, I will never forget one of my 5th-grade students who had a two-hour one-way commute on the subway all in the name of accessing a quality public school education. I couldn’t imagine being disciplined enough to make that type of commute on my own when I was her age. And now, as a parent myself, I couldn’t imagine the weight of having to decide between keeping my daughter close at a lower-performing school versus sending her further away for a better public education.
It was my honor to serve the many students and families in public charter schools where I was fortunate to work over my nine years in the classroom. My heart still swells with pride when I recall my middle school students leading Socratic seminars to analyze complex texts. I would listen in awe as I served as more of a facilitator than anything else during those lessons.
One of my proudest moments came in how seriously my students prepared before our field trip to the State Capitol in celebration of School Choice Week some years ago. After sharing the political arguments both for and against charter schools, I can’t help but smile thinking of the written responses my students prepared regarding their truth about their experiences in a public charter school. They felt so prepared to engage with state legislators and lobbyists that day. Over my career as a charter school teacher, I was fortunate to not only share content with my students but also my love for advocacy.
I still think of my former students and their families every day as I continue my work in education now from a policy and advocacy perspective. It’s been my pleasure to consider my own experience both in the classroom and as a parent of a K-12 school-aged student while navigating complex policy-level issues on the federal team at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
These perspectives help to keep me grounded in the “why” behind this difficult but rewarding work because I am reminded that every decision we make directly impacts a student, teacher, and family member somewhere in our country. And I know because I was that teacher once and I am the mother of that student now.
Sarah Davis is the LEE fellow, federal advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. She is a former teacher at Achievement First Crown Heights Middle School in New York City and Resurgence Hall Charter School in East Point, Georgia.
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