Our corner of the web often makes fun of a woman’s rationalization mechanism, but never have I seen a mainstream publication so complicit in enabling it while trashing an entire organization.
The story starts with Teach For America (TFA). It receives grants from the federal government to place spunky college students in schools where there is a wide disparity of achievement between whites and minorities. Their aim is to be help minorities do better on standardized tests. Whether that actually helps minorities is an argument for another day.
Enter Olivia Blanchard, a white woman. She committed herself to a two-year stint in TFA and was placed in an urban Atlanta school. Once she realized that teaching is not actually easy, and that her minority students weren’t at her beck and call, she began to blame everyone but herself for why it wasn’t going smoothly.
The truth was, the five-week training program had not prepared me adequately.
During my training, I taught a group of nine well-behaved third-graders who had failed the state reading test and hoped to make it to fourth grade. Working with three other corps members, which created a generous teacher-student ratio, I had ample time for one-on-one instruction.
That classroom training was completely unlike the situation I now faced in Atlanta: teaching math and science to two 20-person groups of rotating, difficult fifth-graders—fifth-graders so difficult that multiple substitute teachers would vow never to teach fifth grade at our school again.
Unruly students? In a school?!
No training program can teach you adequately from day one. Experience, attention to detail, and continued learning is necessary to pull through, as anyone who started an entry-level job out of college can testify. I’ve been out of corporate America for a while now, but I believe they call it “on the job training.” Ms. Blanchard tells the story of a woman who also had unruly students:
Jessica Smith, a corps member I recently called up, agrees. “I’ve struggled with behavior management,” she admits. (As with all the names of teachers I spoke to for this article, “Jessica” is a pseudonym.) Though training includes some instruction in student discipline, “I didn’t really have the training to know how to give consequences consistently,” Jessica said.
I asked if she reached out for support. “I think I talked to every person I knew to talk to, even our region’s executive director,” Jessica recalled. Although TFA ultimately did send in a behavior-management expert, “The person who finally came in to help me came at the end of February for a 20-minute session.” Is this a representative experience? It’s hard to say. “We provide training in behavior-management techniques,” a TFA spokesperson said when asked about Jessica, “but corps members are expected to adapt their training to their unique school culture. We also provide continuing support for corps members who have trouble fitting in.”
Jessica has decided not to return to TFA for a second year. She said she was so unsupported that she felt justified reneging on her two-year commitment. “Yes a commitment matters,” she wrote, “but staying isn’t necessarily helpful to your kids or anybody.”
Because TFA didn’t hold Jessica’s hand through every difficulty, she decided it would be “helpful” to just renege on our commitment and quit. At this point it would be prudent to state many women choose teaching for the ease, not for the intellectual rigor. The hours are relatively light, the schedule is predictable, and you get three months off in the summer.
Ms. Blanchard gives Jessica a pass for quitting because, well, she was about to do the same thing. After attacking the TFA and the Atlanta school system with dubious anecdotes and statistics, she sets the reader up for the big reveal:
I am sitting in a black, leather office chair in my new Washington, D.C., office. I have just been hired at a private company whose vision statement says nothing about closing the achievement gap, and the time has come to send TFA an e-mail announcing that I am leaving the program. I have only completed one year of my two-year commitment, knowing full well that this kind of mission-shirking is seen as a very serious, selfish betrayal within TFA. However, the reality is that my employer has been Atlanta Public Schools, my contract with the district was only for one year, and most of my teaching experiences have been defined by the messy struggles of Atlanta Public Schools, not the comfortable mantras of TFA. I struggle to summon the guilt I know I am supposed to be feeling. My large-screen computer monitor rests sturdily in front of me, and the cursor on an empty Word document blinks.What can I say to them?, I wonder. I steel myself against the possibility of criticism, against accusations of apathy, inability, or lack of leadership.
When I click Gmail’s Send button, though, I am flooded with relief rather than dread. Because the truth is, by finally showing I don’t believe that American education can be saved by youthful enthusiasm, I feel more like a leader than I ever did inside the corps.
She gets hired for a job at a DC firm, tosses her commitment aside with one email, and then declares herself as exhibiting leadership. Editors of The Atlantic have just announced to the world that if you’re a woman and enter a difficult job that you can’t solve with a Google search, it’s fine for you to quit, and if you do, you can successfully pitch them an elaborate story rationalizing your failure.
It’s no surprise the article has gone viral, with hundreds of people on Twitter commending Ms. Blanchard for exhibiting leadership by quitting the horrible TFA organization that, in spite of their imperfections, gave her the opportunity they promised. I could find only one voice of dissent:
She quit teaching in Atlanta after one year to go join an investment bank in D.C. I guess I don’t feel her pain? http://t.co/Vo2bmBvqyP
— David Kallison (@davidkallison) October 3, 2013
Bashing on millennials has become a bit of a tired sport in the past couple of years, but as long as publications like The Atlantic continue to enable their narcissism and poor work ethic, the example they set will simply encourage more female “leaders” like Ms. Blanchard.
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