Tonight I was lucky enough to attend a community screening of the new documentary, American Teacher, with my friends Ann, Meeno, and Brian at the School of the Future here in Philadelphia.

While I don’t have the energy right now (it’s now two nights this week that I’ve haven’t made it home until 8pm!) to recap the entire movie, I will say this. I definitely left this movie feeling more uplifted than I did after Waiting for Superman, but not because the story was uplifting, but because it reminded me of the hard work that my colleagues and I do on a day-to-day basis. It was also great to hear from a variety of voices, including Linda Darling-Hammond, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and Charlotte Danielson. The narration was done by Matt Damon, who famously stood up for teachers during the Save Our Schools March earlier this year.

To break it down…

The Pros

The movie stressed the intellectual prowess required to be an effective teacher and the need for teachers to be treated as professionals. It also gives a ‘day-in-the-life’ experience of how teachers spend their days and how many hours they often work outside of the school day. Also highlighted are the difficulties that these schedules and expectations cause for teachers in their families and home lives, something that is often ignored when teachers are held up as ‘Super(wo)men.’

The Cons

There was still a lot of talk of pay-for-performance. While the specifics were not shared about how this performance is decided, one can assume that a certain percentage is from test scores. (spoiler alert) Many of the teachers in the film left teaching altogether because of the stress and low pay, which is disheartening for those of us who have either watched those around us do the same or for those of us who feel that we have become martyrs for doing what we do.

The biggest con? The website’s real website URL is “The Teacher Salary Project.” ??? (http://www.americanteachermovie.org is portal to the real site) If you read the fine print, you will also find that the movie is partnered with the Microsoft Partners in Learning initiative. Just recently, Bill Gates’ Great Schools Compact took hold here in Philly. While I fully support collaboration between charters and the district, I wonder why it took Bill Gates and his financial sway to bring such a change to the troubled school district.

There was a lot of talk in the movie about figuring out new ways to compensate teachers, with the TEP Charter School in New York being highlighted for it’s $125,000 annual salary for its teachers. ¬†Money troubles and scraping by were common themes in the movie, and while I am not saying that I don’t empathize with a passionate and successful teacher who is also a Harvard grad with a Master’s degree making $45,000/yr, it was not clear that monetary compensation was the message of the movie. That is, until I saw the website.

So I wonder—what is the true message of this movie? I don’t think it had a very clear message. I also wonder if this film would make any difference to a non-educator. A lot of it rang true for me, and I found myself shaking my head almost like a devout worshiper during a particularly moving sermon as the teachers told their stories, but how would a non-teacher react to these stories? Would it seem like sappy drivel?

To learn a little more about the movie, check out the trailer.

 

  4 Responses to “American Teacher, the Movie”

  1. One of the critical pieces I took away from the movie was budgetary flexibility can change the culture and dynamic of a school. The fact that TEP Charter School is able to use their regular operating costs to pay teachings $125,000 means something to me. Now, I’m not saying I’m going to jump on the charter bandwagon (because I do truly believe in the “public” public schools), but there is a lesson there. If we provide teachers more responsibility while honing in on what they do well, potentially we could remove some unnecessary costs and apply those savings to teacher’s salaries.

    I’m not imagining an incentive-based payment system, because I think that’s just as bad as getting a red, yellow, or green dot when a District walkthrough goes by. But think about the fact that salaries in Philly cap at around $80,000 after 10 or so years. Maybe that cap should be $125,000 instead – and it seems possible with budgetary flexibility.

  2. Marybeth,
    I’m an educator at SOTF and I want to thank you for coming out and supporting our foundation. We were so heartwarmed (if that’s a word) that so many teachers came towards the end of a tiring week of report card conferences.
    I share your concerns about the movie. It’s definitely a conversation-starter but I agree that it doesn’t really posit a solution. Maybe that wasn’t the producers’ goal.
    Thanks again for coming.
    Elisabeth

  3. MaryBeth,
    I have been reflecting about the movie a bit and have many of the same concerns you shared above. I feel like those outside the teaching profession might perceive teachers as whining and complaining about salary. I was surprised there was so much emphasis on salary throughout the movie, but after you shared the link I can see why. The movie was definitely biased toward teachers, which might be a reaction from Waiting for Superman and the recent negative dialogue about teachers. I wish there was a film that was somewhere more in the middle. I am glad I got to share some time with you, Meenoo, Hank and our colleagues.

  4. MY SON IS A 7th GRADE SCIENCE TEACHER. I SEE HIM GETTING FRUSTRATED MORE AND MORE EVERY YEAR. THIS YEAR IS HIS 13th YEAR AND IS ONLY MAKING, I THINK, 30,000 A YEAR. WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP GET THE TEACHERS GET WHAT THEY DESERVE? I AM NOT AGAINST HIGHER SCHOOL TAXES.OUR TEACHERS DESERVE MORE!

 Leave a Reply

(required)

(required)

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

   
© 2014 Philly Teacher Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha