Documentary Review: American Teacher

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American Teacher (available on Netflix) uses a combination of statistics and case studies to argue that if teachers were paid a higher wage the education system would retain more teachers and draw more talented people into the profession. With a higher wage (and other benefits) it is assumed that teaching would become a more respected profession (alongside medicine and law)–this would also increase teacher satisfaction/retention. As we gain insight into the careers and day to day lives of teachers Erik Benner, Jonathan Dearman, Jamie Fidler, and Rhena Jasey we also feel our share of sympathy for the financial struggles–even with the tremendous workload–each of them face.

While the documentary makes an alright case for why teachers’ salaries/benefits should be increased it fails to mention unions at all. However, I believe this short documentary (only 80 minutes) was aiming to examine the problem at a more intimate level. I very much enjoyed the diversity of the teachers–a harvard graduate, an african american male teacher, a second gen educator/expectant mother, a male texas history teacher–who all seemed to face a similar plight. Still, to me this documentary better serves viewers as an examination into the struggles of teaching rather than a silver bullet solution to fixing the US education system. While teacher Amanda Lueck’s video diaries were a very small part of the documentary they provided some of the most interesting/honest snippets. As a prospective teacher, and with only 80mins in this documentary, I would’ve preferred if this documentary focussed more on the daily grind of teachers than on proposing a solution for the system as a while.

I wouldn’t say American Teacher is groundbreaking, but it’s worth the watch. I’d give it a 3/5.

Reflection

I am always fascinated, impressed, excited, and (most of all) intimidated by the daily grind educators go through in order to be effective teachers. When I visited my high school my former teachers were excited for me to join the ranks and when I asked them how in the world they managed to get it all done they scoffed, told me not to worry about it. And guaranteed that I will love teaching just as much as they do–after which they struggled to figure out how to design their seminars more efficiently and how to find time to do the endless programming that needed to be done.

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I guess I’ll have to take their word for it.

I like to think that all the hard work and passion I put into my undergraduate career is preparing me for the grueling hours that come with teaching. But I’d be lying if I said a part of me didn’t fear “burning out”–that I’d reach my dream job only to realize I’m a crummy teacher who is sick of slaving over mediocre lesson plans.

But a larger part of me believes I will eventually become the teacher I want to be. The kind of teacher who can make an impact on a student’s life–the way so many teachers have for me. Most of all, the thought of so many hours and not enough pay vanishes as I realize that teaching being “my life” is not something to fear but something to embrace. That’s not to say that I don’t believe teachers are underpaid and under-appreciated. That’s not to say that I won’t be struggling through the situations faced by the teachers in this documentary. I’m just saying that I plan to enter education with nothing but love and commitment. And much like many of the educators in American Teacher, I will do whatever it takes to–not only remain a teacher–but to be an effective one.

If anyone else has any EDU documentary suggestions I’d love to hear them!

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