During my Thanksgiving break, I had the chance to spend the morning in the classroom of my college roommate. On the surface, our teaching experiences couldn’t be more different. I teach math at a growing charter school in North Memphis where nearly 100% of my students qualify for free and reduced lunch. My friend Chris teaches reading in suburban Massachusetts at a traditional public middle school with a strong history of academic achievement.
Spending some time with Chris and his students was an eye-opening experience. It reminded me a lot of my own time in middle school (just two towns over from the school I was observing). Students had a lot of freedom, high academic expectations, and systems were a lot more relaxed than my own experience. After getting over the shock of students chatting in homeroom, leaving their seats to sharpen pencils when needed, and 6th graders transitioning freely, I had the chance to chat with another member of Chris’ team who had tons of questions about how my school was run.
It hit me at that moment that these two school models rarely, if ever, talk to one another. Whether it is mistrust or animosity, these two constituencies of dedicated public educators never come together to share what they have learned. As classes passed, and I got a chance to view more classrooms, the reality struck me: both traditional public schools and charters have a lot to share with each other about how to best serve kids.
For example, I was stunned with the level of integration I observed between material presented in the classroom and the online resources teachers were leveraging so students could continue to learn at home. Similarly, I realized that the intervention models we use at my school as well as urgency-driving practices could easily be shared to maximize instructional time.
The opportunities for collaboration are numerous and underlie the fact that a forum needs to exist in order for educators, regardless of their school affiliation, to share what works for them in the classroom. Creating the time and space for this level of collaboration is vital to bridging the gap between charters and traditional public schools as well as improving educational outcomes for all kids.