American Teacher

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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