Arkansas Arts Education Charter Schools Disruption Teachers and Teaching

Arkansas: The Abusive Treatment of a First-Year Music Teacher

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Sometimes teachers complain that their schools have too many regulations, too many routines.

This music teacher, a professional violinist who signed up to teach in a charter school in Arkansas dedicated to the arts and dear to the heart of Alice Walton, learned about the perils of teaching in a school where everything was deregulated and there were no routines.

Someone thought that a school where decisions are made on the fly and teachers are always on their own was a good ideal maybe this was someone’s idea of innovation.

No, it was not innovative. It was chaotic. It was abusive in the eyes of this teacher. It was disorderly and unpredictable.

Don’t the arts require practice and discipline? Can teachers flourish when there is no respect for them?

Who thought that an atmosphere of chaos and disrespect was a good idea?

The article begins:

“When I started teaching orchestra at Arkansas Arts Academy High School last fall, I didn’t know much about the state of public education in Arkansas. My entire career — 15 years — had been spent as a performing violinist: concertmaster of the Fort Smith Symphony, concertmaster and principal viola with the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra, composer/director of Storybook Strings, and a freelancer with touring groups like “Book of Mormon” and Harry Connick, Jr. I also had a long history of teaching private lessons, with a background in the Suzuki method.

“What I did NOT have was an Arkansas teacher’s license, or any previous training to become a public school teacher.

“That’s okay!” the principal assured me. “We’re a charter school. We have waivers from teacher licensure requirements, as long as you have a bachelor’s degree and relevant professional experience!”

“Cool,” I thought. “I know music. I teach music. I can learn everything else on the job.” So I signed up to teach, half-time, trusting in the experience and good faith of my administration and fellow teachers to help me learn the ropes.

“The school didn’t give me a contract until 41 days after I was hired. It was my fourth day of teacher in-service before I found out what my salary would be ($21,187.50) or what employment terms I had signed up for. And those employment terms? They were incredibly vague.

“My contract said “190 half-days,” and “at-will employment.” It also mentioned “a waiver granted by the Arkansas Department of Education” that made Arkansas Arts Academy “exempt from certain laws relating to schools, including specifically many of those relating to employees.” But I trusted the school’s good reputation — I had a friend who taught there, and knew families who sent their kids. Plus, what musician wouldn’t root for the success of an arts academy?

“I should have been more careful. If I had gone to the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) website, I would have learned that the “waiver” in my contract was actually a LOT of waivers, and the ADE grants new ones all the time. Currently, Arkansas Arts Academy High School has 51 waivers in effect, including teachers’ rights to planning periods, duty-free lunches, limitations on before- and after-school duties, and the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act. Arkansas Arts Academy is also exempt from having to provide written personnel policies*** to its employees, which means that there is no handbook telling us how to access our classroom funds, what to bring for fire drills, how to interact with the parent organization, or who to talk to if we need help.

“In the absence of state oversight, and without written personnel policies, things quickly became chaotic.”

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