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Teach for America to start new training program for volunteers

By Emilie Plesset, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 26, 2014

For 24 years, the Teach for America program has catered to college graduates hoping to help underprivileged students through a two-year teaching stint in schools across the country.

While many TFA applicants hear of rewarding experienced garnered through the program, they are less likely to be informed of the problems corps members experience once in the classroom.

Many alumni have criticized the TFA program for undertraining corps members and throwing inexperienced teachers into difficult classroom situations.

The summer prior to their first year in a classroom, prospective teachers must complete a five-week teaching crash course. University alum Rohan Dharan, a current Las Vegas-based corps member, said the crash course was similar to “cramming” an education degree in five weeks.

“I definitely learned a ton at institute, but teaching is such a multi-faceted thing,” Dharan said. “Until you’re in a position running your own classroom, figuring out what works for your kids, I can’t say I walked in 100 percent prepared.”

The Washington Post, The Atlantic, NPR and other news organizations have published first-hand accounts from TFA alum who had experiences similar to Dharan's involving apparent lack of preparation.

In an effort to confront this criticism, TFA co-CEOs Elisa Villanueva Beard and Matthew Kramer announced recently that next year early TFA-admitted college seniors will participate in a year-long pilot program.

The program will focus on teacher education and will provide participants with an extra year to practice their teaching skills before they are in charge of their own classroom.

Kendra Hearn, University Coordinator of the TFA-Detroit Teacher Education program, said the University teaching certificate hopes to join TFA in teaching future teachers.

“This for us is all about opportunity to be a part of the preparation solution and help them go in as well prepared as they possibly can,” Hearn said.

For many corps members, the TFA teaching course is the only formal education training they receive.

Dharan, who graduated in 2013, said during the training program, he and a group of four other teachers taught a morning kindergarten class together and took turns acting as the lead teacher. In the afternoon, they attended sessions discussing how to make lesson plans and interact with students.

Dharan said he felt like he did not have enough classroom experience prior to the beginning of the school year.

“You really don’t get a sense of a whole day and what a whole classroom experience looks like until you’re in it,” Dharan said. “No matter how good the training is, the more time you can spend in a classroom before you enter the program, the better off you will be.”

The original summer training program also provided a general knowledge of how to teach every age bracket.

However, University alum Carly Goldberg, a current Chicago-based corps member, said she did not have the opportunity to connect with kids in the age group she teaches and did not receive sufficient training in her field.

Over the summer, Goldberg trained with a high school class, but taught in a middle school in the fall.

“When I started teaching middle school, I hadn’t been in a middle school classroom since I was in middle school,” Goldberg said. “In college, you’re used to taking a class where the professor just talks to you the whole time. You have to learn that that’s not how kids learn things.”

Dharan said he felt he could have been better prepared to teach his first grade class and felt unprepared to teach his students how to read.

“There have been moments where I’ve been like, ‘I really feel like I needed more preparation on how to actually teach a child to read,’ ” Dharan said.