There are dichotomous views of teachers permeating today’s education-policy conversation, according to this documentary from the folks at the Teacher Salary Project, an NPO dedicated to “improving working conditions” of American public-school teachers. On one end, the “teaching profession has never been less respected.” (Of course, after reading the latest PDK/Gallup poll, one could argue that this isn’t the case.) On the other, it is widely recognized that educators are the single most important in-school factor for raising student achievement. To show how important teachers are, and how undervalued they feel, this film follows three teachers and one former teacher for two years—and offers interview snippets from many more. Each of the featured educators is dedicated; each is well-regarded by students and parents. Yet each feels that teachers are underpaid and, thus, undervalued. (One quit the profession for a more lucrative career, another works two jobs in addition to teaching, yet still had his house foreclosed.) The stories of these teachers—and those like them—are powerful and worth telling. Effective, dedicated teachers absolutely should be paid more than most make today. But the film—to its detriment—skirts around discussing how to manage (or counsel out) less effective teachers. It praises D.C.’s IMPACT system for its ability to identify and reward top performers, but fails to explain the implications of IMPACT for those in the bottom quartile. The same goes for its treatment of Denver’s PROCOMP program. Again, stellar teachers should be rewarded and respected. But a conversation about professionalizing teaching without a discussion of variant teacher ability is no conversation at all. (PS, as you’re watching, listen to the familiar voice of the narrator—it’s Matt Damon.)
Vanessa Roth, dir. American Teacher, (Teacher Salary Project, 2011).
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