Teach for America Fails Teachers

Olivia Blanchard explains why she quit after one year
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 23, 2013 11:44 AM CDT
Teach for America Fails Teachers
A third grade teacher at Powell Elementary School and Teach for America participant teaches a math lesson in Washington, Monday, May 12, 2008.   (AP Photo/Brendan Hoffman)

Like all Teach for America teachers, Olivia Blanchard made a two-year commitment to the program—but she quit after just one, and in the Atlantic she explains why. TFA's five-week training program simply can't compare to the years of training and student teaching non-TFA teachers go through—and it doesn't adequately prepare many teachers to deal with classrooms full of unruly kids, Blanchard writes. She describes her training as "a sea of jargon, buzzwords, and touchy-feely exercises." TFA claims trainees teach students for an average of two hours a day; Blanchard taught two 90-minute classes a week. She had nine students, all of whom were well-behaved, and she worked with multiple other corps members so there was lots of one-on-one time with the kids. Then she was placed in an Atlanta classroom with 20 fifth-graders "so difficult that multiple substitute teachers would vow never to teach fifth grade at our school again."

TFA's central goal is to "close the achievement gap," and the implication—at least as far as Blanchard is concerned—is that non-TFA teachers are not able to do this, and are thus failing their students. But in Blanchard's experience, non-TFA teachers were much more in control of their classrooms, and quite often used teaching approaches TFA refers to as "uncommon." This was her personal experience, of course, but Blanchard spoke to other corps members who had negative experiences, including one who had serious discipline problems in her classroom and felt she hadn't been adequately trained—and who, after asking numerous TFA officials for support, only got a 20-minute session with a behavior-management expert. "In my experience, many if not most corps members are confused about their purpose, uncertain of their skills, and struggling to learn the basics," Blanchard writes. "I don’t believe that American education can be saved by youthful enthusiasm." Click for her full column. (More education stories.)

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