Being a Teacher in an Arizona Charter School Was Destroying My Husband’s Health

Picture of Charli Vark

Charli Vark

Picture of Charli Vark

I thank my lucky stars I can pack lunch for my husband each morning before he heads off to teach knowing that he’ll actually be able to have a lunch break to eat it. That never would have happened if we hadn’t left Arizona and moved to Washington, D.C. 

Being a teacher in an Arizona charter school was destroying his health. He had migraines, threw up every morning before work, and even had a seizure during his first year. We were fortunate to have health insurance through his job, but they kept him so busy and poor he never had the time nor the money to use it. I watched this man that I love following his passion and inspiring kids in their love of math, but I also saw how the charter school took advantage of him and he never felt well.

I watched my husband deal with immense pressure from a dysfunctional system. He would work 10 and 12-hour days, and thanks to the combination of a lack of time and a lack of pay, he couldn’t eat lunch. Early on, he was under a lot of pressure, pressure to fudge different things and to write an entire school-wide program, all so the school could get STEM certified.

Even though we were young, and still are, I was already losing my husband. His school demanded same-day grades, so I helped him enter his grades at night. Once he finished marking the papers, 120 each night, I would read the grades for him to input into the system, just so we could get a little time together. Sadly our weekends weren’t much of a reprieve. On Friday nights he was so worn out from the week he was often asleep by 7 pm, and his Sundays were spent almost entirely, 12 pm to 9 pm, on work for his school.

Even with all of that hard, dedicated work, we didn’t have any security, certainly no financial security. We never knew until the last minute if he was going to have a job again the next year, and a lot of his pay was structured in bonuses that were tied to so many variables it was difficult to calculate or plan ahead. Each year it was a mystery what our finances were going to look like. Even though he often earned the highest raises because of his talents and commitment to the job, everyone knew that raises came out of one big pool, so anything he earned took something from someone else who was also struggling. That never felt good, either.

To this day it makes me angry when people talk about how lucky a teacher is to have summers off every year. In his Arizona charter school there was post-class work after the summer break begins, summer school and trainings during the break, and pre-return work before the break ends. Not to mention the long nights spent working throughout the year. Perhaps that’s why Arizona can’t retain teachers. Who would want to stay working in an environment like that?

Fortunately, I got into a law school in Washington, D.C., and it enabled us to move and for me to fulfill my promise to get my husband out of that harmful teaching environment.. I knew I had to get him out of the Arizona charter, but seeing things now makes the damage even more obvious. He’s mentally in such a better place now that he’s teaching in a school that respects him, in a city that values public schools.

The Administrators here structure the day so he has planning time and work time during the day to meet the needs of his students and his job. We have regained stability, safety, mental and physical health, and mostly we’ve just gained our lives back. I’m so grateful I can spend time with the man I love without having to watch him be crushed by the job he loves.

If anyone thinks that people pushing a privatization agenda are really working to improve education, all they need to do is spend some time in Arizona, the epicenter of privatization. If people don’t realize what is being done in their states soon enough, they’re going to find themselves in similar straits as Arizona, with hundreds of classrooms left without full-time teachers, hemorrhaging talent, and robbing students of great educators like my husband. It’s not too late.

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