Two new teachers at Achievement First’s schools have a line on their resumes that makes them stand out from their colleagues: parent.
Charter schools tend to have younger teachers who do not yet have families, and often their teachers come from outside the communities where the schools are located. Both features have fueled criticism of charter schools as parachuting do-gooders into needy neighborhoods until they move on to other, more prestigious positions.
Achievement First’s new hires — a classroom teacher at one Achievement First elementary school and a teacher-in-training at another one — represent a tiny counterweight to those trends. The network has had its own parents work in its Connecticut schools, but the new hires are a first for New York City.
Having parents as teachers offers a unique referendum on school quality, according to Guerschmide Saint-Ange, who oversees parent engagement across the network.
“They get to tell us in a very official capacity if this is the type of school they want their kid to be in,” Saint-Ange said, adding that, like all teachers, the parents get to play a role in shaping policies at the school. “Who better to give us guidance on that than a current parent?”
Louise Eason, a fourth-grade reading teacher, taught at I.S. 286 in Harlem before starting at Achievement First Apollo this year.
“I wanted to transition to work with elementary school students, and I thought what better place to start looking than where my own child goes to school,” she said. “I have great relationships with his teachers, and I just wanted to be a part of it.”
About half of the people who work at AF Apollo are non-white, according to the network’s spokeswoman, Amanda Pinto. But few of the teachers are also parents, Eason said. And few have roots in the school’s East New York neighborhood, either.
“For our kids to have a role model that’s from the community that is a strong representation of a black woman that is college educated that is also a mother, that’s such a powerful experience for all our kids to have,” said Principal Jabari Sims.
A mile away, Geraldann Grubb works at AF Aspire as part of the network’s “teacher-in-residence” program, which trains aspiring teachers by having them support other classes for a year before being hired full-time. The program pays $25,000 a year and is geared toward “top college graduates … who want to explore a career in education,” according to the network’s website.
Grubb — whose two children attend AF East New York, where she has been the parent representative on the school’s board — doesn’t perfectly fit that bill. She found out about the job when AF Aspire’s founding principal approached her at a meeting of Families for Excellent Schools, an advocacy group that aims to train parents to become more politically active in education policy, especially when it comes to charter schools.
Before starting the program, Grubb taught in a city-funded universal pre-kindergarten program, where she said there was little opportunity to advance. At AF Aspire, which just opened this year, she said she aims toward one day being a principal or a special education coordinator.
But first, she said, she is adjusting to the steep challenge of classroom instruction.
“I was prepared as a parent to get the work and do it at home, but now it’s like you’re in the classroom and it’s a totally different ballgame,” she said. “It does become overwhelming, that’s a secret, but I love it.”
Grubb, who has some colleagues who also have children, said she thinks being a parent gives her a different perspective on how to teach.
“There are some times when teachers don’t have enough patience, and I’m like, ‘You can’t just expect that from a four year old. You have to assume they don’t know anything and just work with them,'” Grubb said. “It’s annoying to the teachers sometimes. They’re like, ‘Oh, Gigi, please.’ I’m like, no, trust me, you’re going to thank me later because the families are going to be happy and they’re not going to pull their kids from the school.”
Sims said it’s hard to tell whether students respond better to Eason because she’s a parent, but he did note that he hasn’t seen her struggle with any behavior issues yet — the students respect her, he said.
In addition to having her role as a parent strengthen her work as a teacher, working as a teacher makes her a better parent, too, Eason said. “It makes it easier for me to spend time with my son,” she said.
Grubb said she is already encouraging friends and acquaintances to consider joining her as a teacher in training. “You know how I started,” she says she tells other parents. “I was a parent just like you.”