by Georgia Charter Schools Association
Charla Dover currently teaches at Cherokee Charter Academy and is a member of 2015-2016 teacher candidate cohort for the Georgia Teacher Academy for Preparation and Pedagogy (GaTAPP) program. GaTAPP is an alternative certification program for classroom teachers.
A mid-career change is never an easy transition, but some GaTapp candidates are met with unexpected challenges and manage to navigate them with what appears to be an effortless grace. Charla has proven to be one of those candidates. Recently, she sat down with Georgia Charter Schools Association Program Specialist Stefan McCain to talk about her personal and professional rewards and challenges. The transcript below is an excerpt of the interview. To read the extended version visit GCSA’s website.
Stefan: Tell me how you first got involved with GCSA’s TAPP Program.
Charla: I became involved in TAPP Program through the suggestion of my Assistant Principal at Cherokee Charter where at the time I was employed as a Paraprofessional. I was working as a “Para” as I finished up my last few months of my schooling. I figured it was a good way to get my foot in the door even before finishing the program.
Meanwhile, I found out that the school where I graduated had dropped its teacher certification program. I was going to have to choose an alternate path. The door for GaTAPP for Charter Schools was opened, and I took advantage of this great opportunity.
Stefan: Was there something in particular about charter schools that led you in that direction in lieu of traditional schools?
Charla: The one thing that drew me to the school where I am, and still very much appeals to me, is that we are a community. I like the “smallness” of our school. I love how we all come together as a team.
Stefan: What’s your first memory of having joined the teaching profession?
Charla: My first memory of teaching profession was when I started to substitute in the school system were my own children attended. In addition to this one of the first jobs I got a phone call to substitute was a Special Education classroom. I was hooked from the beginning and this is where my heart and soul is to this day.
Stefan: What obstacles have you had to overcome in the course of the program?
Charla: Where do I begin? This journey has not been an easy road. The program itself has been fabulous, while the world beyond it has been the struggle. To begin, Georgia changed some of their requirements, and I had to take the GACE Program Admissions test. I had not taken a test in 20 years. Math was always a struggle for me. I failed the math two times, but the third time was a charm. My husband lost his job, we lost our home we had lived in since we got married. My daughter became pregnant and lived with us, and we now have guardianship of our 18-month-old granddaughter. I’m a new mom at 48. In the last year we have also moved twice and hopefully for the last time. Amongst all the obstacles the TAPP program itself, my own school mentor, and our school’s admin team has been an amazing support system. Encouraging me all along the way and offering the support I need to fulfill each module. The GaTAPP program has allowed me to work and finish my school without losing an income or causing more hardship on our family.
Stefan: What has surprised you most about teaching?
Charla: Until someone works as a teacher or works with a teacher, I think you never can over-estimate how much work a teacher really puts into her job. Not only is it the everyday things but also how much of it you take home. Then there is the worry, concerns and tears you put into each student. As a SPED teacher I get so attached and concerned for each of the kids.
Stefan: What do you find most challenging about joining the profession and/or the TAPP program?
Charla: The most challenging thing for me is the paperwork and managing to find the time to do it in.
Stefan: What’s the best/worst thing to happen since you started your career as a charter school teacher?
Charla: I honestly can say at this point I have nothing. I can say that I have no worst thing.
The best thing that has happened has been this year. In all the hurdles I’ve jumped through to keep myself above water, this year has been my best. As a SPED Co-Teacher this has been my year of learning so much. I have learned to work as one with my teachers. We have worked together to devise lesson plans and the accommodations to meet my “kids” needs. I have learned to use my teachers and their plans to modify test. I have learned over the course of the year how my students learn best and create the plans so they can always work to their full potential. This creates enthusiasm and a positive, exciting learning environment for those who could have been discouraged.
Stefan: If you could change one thing about the teaching profession, what would it be?
Charla: The one thing I would change is standardized testing, especially from a Special Education standpoint. It is so unfair for those students to have to meet the same standards as your General Education students. Even with accommodation, it is setting them up for failure. I hate how stressed these test makes the teachers, school staff and the students. Teachers are forced to teach to certain timeline and move quickly. Even with re-teaching and reviewing, there are some students who just don’t reach mastery, and you just have to move on.
Stefan: When your friends/family find out that you teach, what do they say or ask?
Charla: I usually get mixed questions, but mostly they ask if I like to teach.Most of my family and close friends are proud of me for going back to school at 43.
Stefan: What might (someone) be surprised to know about you?
Charla: That before going back to school to become a teacher, I was a Nail Technician and owned my own Nail Salon.
Stefan: How would (someone) describe you?
Charla: Passionate about what I do, hardworking, overachiever, a perfectionist, loyal. I hope that these are all qualities people see in me.
Stefan: What do you do when you aren’t teaching/doing the work that comes with the job or the TAPP coursework?
Charla: I love spending time with my family, shopping, enjoying the sunshine and being outdoors and spending time with my friends.