Unprepared to teach

Olivia Blanchard quit Teach for America because the five-week training program hadn’t prepared her to teach “difficult” fifth-graders.

I had few insights or resources to draw on when preteen boys decided recess would be the perfect opportunity to beat each other bloody, or when parents all but accused me of being racist during meetings. Or when a student told me that his habit of doing nothing during class stemmed from his (admittedly sound) logic that “I did the same thing last year and I passed.” The Institute’s training curriculum was far too broad to help me navigate these situations. Because many corps members do not receive their specific teaching assignments until after training has ended, the same training is given to future kindergarten teachers in Atlanta, charter-school teachers in New Orleans, and high-school physics teachers in Memphis.

Katrina Ballard explains why she didn’t quit, despite feeling unprepared and overwhelmed.

She’d spent her five-week summer training working with second graders, but was hired to teach middle-school students in Denver.

 I struggled with behavior management, making connections with kids who grew up in realities far from my own, and the bureaucracy of working in a public school . . . I was failing at too many things for my ego and my body to handle.

But it wasn’t because she lacked traditional training, Ballard writes.

. . . about half of the incoming staff that year were fresh out of teaching school. They struggled with the same things I did. They found small successes and built relationships with their students, like I did. But TFA or not TFA — it didn’t make a difference.We all felt as though we were drowning.

. . . Teaching in many of our public schools is unsustainable, and many of the teachers don’t last, except for a few golden gems. When I left after my second year in May to come back to New York, about half of the rest of my school staff was quitting, too. Teaching is HARD. REALLY HARD. CAREER TEACHERS ARE SAINTS!

Ballard now directs teacher training at Democracy Prep, a network of New York City charter schools.

More states and teacher prep programs are requiring prospective teachers to pass an assessment of their classroom skills, reports Stateline.

About Joanne


  1. SC Math Teacher says:

    I’m not sure if I have the full timeline down, but it sure seems that Katrina Ballard went through TFA training, taught for two years, and now directs teacher training? Does that seem a bit off to some of you?

    • I don’t what she did in between Teach for America and her current job.

      • SC Math Teacher says:

        Just checked LinkedIn. She was TFA teacher from 8/11 to 5/13. A volunteer position at Planned Parenthood overlapped the end. Right after her TFA teaching ended, she went into a managerial position with TFA and shortly after that started at Democracy Prep, holding both positions simultaneously. It is a bit disconcerting that two years of teaching is considered enough experience to do what she does now.

  2. No amount of training confers the ability to control teenagers who do not want to be controlled.

  3. Educationally Incorrect says:

    I initially started on my teaching career at an alt cert program and the only reason why I left it was because no school out there would recognize it, NOT because it was in any way inferior to the traditional program I attended after.

    The common rationale given for claiming that various alternative paths to teaching are inferior to traditional ed schools is that alt cert people quit teaching more often because they’re far less prepared than traditionally “trained” teachers. A more likely explanation is that the alt cert folks are more likely to have a career to return to or a major that makes them more marketable and less afraid to quit a teaching job.

    You’d think that all those “21-century skills” would lead the ed people to consider this possibility.

    • SC Math Teacher says:

      I am a teacher by way of an alt cert program as well. That doesn’t mean I considered myself qualified to run a teacher training program after two years of teaching. I’m not saying that longevity always
      confers wisdom; it’s necessary but not sufficient. (I also think the ed school they sent us to in my program was a near total waste of my time.)