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This time, teachers take the political stand in charter school battle

Two weeks after a massive charter school rally drew students and parents from across the city, thousands of teachers took to Foley Square to send a similar message.

Wednesday’s rally was the latest in a series of large-scale pro-charter political events that began just before Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been critical of some charter schools, took office. Teachers, in shirts that read “Teacher Activist” on the back, said their main goal was to pressure city officials to improve district schools — and to lend more support to the charter-school movement.

To make their point, several speakers told grim stories about district schools. One recalled a teacher who encouraged students to drop out and flip burgers. Another compared district schools to those in rural China. Charter schools were portrayed as places where students “experience joy and happiness and come alive.”

The rallies, organized by the advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, have focused attention to the growing charter school sector, which still serves less than 10 percent of city public-school students. Those schools, where teachers are typically not unionized, have faced their own sharp criticism for harsh discipline policies and high rates of teacher turnover.

“I only hope that those teachers who leave their charter schools will maintain their commitment to the city’s children by joining our ranks,” United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said.

Here are the voices of some of the teachers at the rally.

A different take
Many of the teachers had attended the Families for Excellent Schools rally two weeks ago, where students and parents wore red shirts that read, “I fight to end inequality.” On Wednesday, teachers wore blue shirts that read, “I teach to end inequality.”

So why have a separate rally for only teachers?

Ramy Abdel-Nabi, the dean of curriculum and instruction at Leadership Preparatory Ocean Hill Elementary in Brooklyn, said teachers have credibility: they’re in classrooms each day with students.

“Teacher voice carries a lot of weight,” he said.

Even more compelling for Abdel-Nabi, the crowd consisted of mostly young teachers, which he sees as good for future activism.

“The younger generation often gets a lot of flack,” he said, whereas the rally is “a sign that there are a lot of dedicated young people.”

‘We enjoy what we’re doing’

Charter schools often get a reputation for working their teachers too hard, said Brittany Hunter, a fourth-grade teacher at Harlem Success Academy 1. She usually works from about 6:35 a.m until 6:35 p.m and described the job as stressful.

“We enjoy what we’re doing,” she said. “It’s high stress, but we would prefer to work here.”

Teacher unity

Many of the teachers said they enjoyed being surrounded by their peers from across the city. Educators from Success Academy, Achievement First, Girls Prep Bronx, Coney Island Prep and others packed into Foley Square.

Not all of them felt that they had a political point to make. The turnout was more about bringing teachers together around a similar cause, said Kate Lucyk, a science teacher at Success Academy on the Upper West Side.

“For me, it’s more of a unifying thing,” she said. “[Politics] is not really what I’m here for.”

Countering the teachers union

The group at Wednesday’s rally represents a different set of teachers than those usually involved in politics, said Kyle Somersall, a third-grade teacher at Success Academy on the Upper West Side. Young, non-unionized teachers bring energy and a different set of values to the political discussion, he said.

“Currently the voice of the teachers is the teachers union. It’s important for the voice of other teachers to be heard as well,” Somersall said. “We are probably used to things changing faster. We change things when they aren’t working.”

“We’re down for the cause,” he said.