There are concerns that teachers are not from the communities in which they teach, particularly in urban areas, where differences in race and social class between teachers and students are magnified. Housing costs are often named as a culprit. One solution to this problem has been to build new “teacher villages.” These are typically lower cost residential apartment units built around or near charter schools, available to teachers working at these schools. One is now being considered for Washington, DC, to be built from funds provided specifically for charter school growth.
At first, I can appreciate this as an innovative strategy to revitalize neighborhood schools. But then you find that these villages are not typically available around traditional public schools, so this is clearly one way to attract more growth for the charter sector. Nevertheless, I can see teacher villages as a way to redevelop blighted communities, to provide convenience for teachers so they don’t have to commute long distances, and encourage educators to interact with the communities they serve. Given that teacher salaries are relatively low in most communities, lower cost housing diminishes one burden that is foisted on those who choose to teach.
When I think about this more deeply, I start to realize that teacher villages are a less than ideal solution. I have some questions:
- Who is paying for this subsidized housing? Is this truly low-cost housing or is this actually a form of deferred compensation, which doesn’t really make this a deal for teachers after all?
- Does lower cost apartment living actually serve as a form of bias against more veteran educators? I can imagine that these villages would be suitable for recent graduates in their early to mid-20s and not necessarily for “older” teachers, potentially with families.
- Particularly in urban areas, why the association with charter schools? Additionally, if we were to map out potential teacher villages, are they most visible in low-income communities of color? With that, is this just another form of gentrification?
- Will a teacher’s living conditions, or conduct in their private home, have any bearing on their employment?
The whole concept of teacher villages also reminds me of the early history of public schooling, when the profession of teaching didn’t really exist. Scores of young women, unable to find alternative work, were exploited to teach, so to speak, and bound by strict rules and codes of conduct. There is historical record of teacher villages in the mid to late 19th century, into the 20th century as well. Have you heard of the Boarding Round?
In the latter half of the 1800s, local communities designed schools to provide basic academic skills and moral education for children. Teacher compensation consisted primarily of room and board provided by the local community. The “Boarding Round” pay system was a strong incentive for teachers to maintain positive relations with community members and to maintain a high moral character. It also reflected the barter economy of the time.
This sounds almost exactly the same as the contemporary motive for teacher villages. To value teachers as professionals, there should be some respect for the individual to live where they want to live, to freely move about as they see fit. The motives of the community must not necessarily supersede the individual liberties of the teacher. Teachers, as they were in the past, are not owned by the company. They are not owned by the community. This may have been a convenient development for the early days of schooling, when teachers were young, educated women with very little in terms of actual rights or autonomy. They were so desperate to receive an education and leave their small towns to find work, despite very limited employment options.
Teachers still tend to be overwhelmingly white, middle-class women. Teaching is still written as a profession most suitable to women. It makes sense that traditional codes of sex and gender still permeate teaching and education. While the intentions might be noble, I think the whole concept of teacher villages still ascribes to a very traditional and restrictive view of teaching as a profession.