Jennifer Nelson

Jennifer Nelson is a 7th-grade English language arts teacher and the chapter leader at Future Leaders Institute (FLI).

Q: Why did you decide to become a charter school teacher?

I’ve always had a natural inclination to work in the classroom, I first thought about becoming a teacher at age five. When I looked into charter schools, I was attracted to the idea of teacher-input into the classroom and allowing teachers to be creative.

When I was in college I worked with an autistic child, which sparked my interest in education and working with children. Part of me was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up since working with just one child was so challenging, but after a year sitting behind a desk I realized I needed something more challenging and fulfilling. I really wanted a job that focused on reading and writing, which are really my passions.

Q: How has the union made a difference for your school?

For me the union has made the whole difference. You see and you hear about these non-union charter schools with high teacher turnover; they burnt out teachers so quickly. Having a union means teachers have a voice; that we can ask for what we need to make positive change for our kids. Having a union gives allows us more freedom and flexibility.

For instance, this year we had a say in creating new positions that the board was willing to fund. We had an influence in what those positions would look like, and the educators here were very involved in the hiring process through our hiring committee. We hired a middle school math specialist, and push-in positions in both math and ELA to support small group instruction. We made sure the positions were really equal in terms of planning, grading, co-teaching, so it would really add to the education of the kids.

Q: What would you say to your colleagues in non-union charter schools?

The union creates a support system that gives teachers the chance to voice an opinion without fear of speaking up. Instead of just complaining about what can’t happen, teachers can achieve the change they need. The union can help you bring the change you want at your school. As the union chapter leader at my school, I am able to have an open dialogue with the administration about what’s needed at our school.