Event Recap: Why Teachers Leave the Classroom to Launch Nontraditional Education Programs

VELA Education Fund was proud to partner with The 74 on June 15 to present the online event Into the Unknown: Why Teachers Leave the Classroom to Launch Nontraditional Education Programs. Linda Jacobson, Senior Writer for The 74, posed questions to VELA grantees Iman Alleyne, Ian Bravo, and Heather Long, and about their transition from working in traditional school environments to launching their own nontraditional models. Mike McShane added trends and insights from his role as Director of National Research at EdChoice. 

“If you look at the homeschooling numbers from pre-pandemic to now, according to [the National Center for Education Statistics], it basically doubled,” said McShane. 

So what caused the shift? Alleyne, Bravo, and Long , and  all shared their stories, explaining their struggles with traditional models. Alleyne learned through working with special needs students “what can happen when we do give students exactly what they need to thrive…I thought everybody should have this opportunity if it helped them to show that they could succeed.” She wanted her children to have more personalized learning opportunities,  so she started her own nature school co-op that grew into the Kind Academy, with its first brick-and-mortar location opening in South Florida later this year. Similarly, Bravo and Long felt dissatisfied with the inflexibility of traditional models that failed to meet the needs of individual students.

“I think we’re seeing teachers who want things like a more flexible schedule,” McShane said. “We see teachers who want to have stronger connections with parents, where people feel like they’re rowing the boat in the same direction.” 

The panelists agreed. 

“[Going back into public school after the pandemic closures] we weren’t quite thriving the way we wanted to… I didn’t see that excitement for learning that I had seen previously [in my students] and I started to struggle with some of the challenges I was facing and not being able to teach in the way I really wanted to,” said Long, who leads a microschool out of her New Hampshire home. 

“I spent the last 15 years working in the public school system, mostly in charter schools…work[ing] with some of the smartest people that I know today, the most committed educators, in some of what I consider to be the best charter schools in and around the New York City area which…is one of the most highly funded regions of our country,” Bravo said. “And even with all those advantages, I look back on the experience that we were able to give kids, and it feels…mediocre for the vast majority of students because to me that’s like one-size-fits-all.” Bravo, who supports launch microschools in Florida through Primer, summed up the conversation when he said, “Most educators are not leaving because they don’t want to teach anymore, they are leaving because they DO want to teach and the systems that are there aren’t allowing them to teach in a way that’s both impactful and sustainable.”

So what is the future for nontraditional models? 

Alleyne’s goal is to open 100 brick-and-mortar locations across the world over the next 10 years, and Bravo wants to continue giving educators and families a pathway by helping new microschools launch. Long is working with a local teacher to expand her own program so she can accept more students and is working with her community to provide more options for students. McShane added that states are beginning to pass more school choice bills, making it easier for microschools to open. 

Based on these trends, it seems nontraditional models will continue to grow, giving families more opportunities to find the program that best fits their learners.