American Teacher, reviewed by Brian Jones

There is a review of the documentary movie American Teacher by Brian Jones, over at Susan Ohanian’s site.

The review is here.

Some representative quotes from the review:

The American Teacher filmmakers show us a teacher in Texas, Erik Benner, who is doing his best to inspire his students, to bring history to life and make his lessons relevant to their lives. We’re not shocked when he changes into sweats to do some after-school coaching. But there’s something startling about the sight of Benner operating a forklift at Circuit City until 10 p.m., knowing that he’ll have to rise the next day and do it all over again.

… … …

Furthermore, the filmmakers discuss the issue of teacher turnover–nationwide, nearly 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within their first five years on the job, a figure unmatched in any profession. In urban school districts, 20 percent of all teachers quit in a given year. “We need to show that we trust teachers, and that we value them,” Fidler told me. “This movie is about making teaching a sustainable profession.”

The film contains other personal stories. Jonathan Dearman, an African-American educator in San Francisco, reluctantly quits after five years of teaching because he couldn’t afford to continue. He joins his family’s real estate business and doubles his income in a single year.

While corporate reformers relish the opportunity to replace senior educators with cheaper, inexperienced teachers, American Teacher shows the real cost of this churn. It’s truly heartbreaking to listen to Jonathan’s former students talk about how much they miss him. One student uses the word “devastated” to describe how he feels. “We want to stop the revolving door,” American Teacher producer Ninive Calegari told me on the phone. “This is not charity work, it’s a profession. We need to give teachers a livable wage.”

Evidently poverty is a key issue, both for students and teachers. Teachers who work second jobs in the evenings burn out and quit in high proportions. High rates of turnover are bad for students, as they are taught disproportionately by inexperienced teachers. And students who come to school hungry don’t learn well; consider this wonderful program to feed students in schools, Feeding Our Future, featured in today’s Globe and Mail.

I just saw Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine this evening, and she does a good job of connecting the dots, providing some of the detail behind this era’s version of “the rich get richer and the poor get the shaft.” Rich and powerful forces have been quite successful at forcing through their agenda in the economics world (“We can’t raise taxes on the rich because we would lose jobs!”), and they’re doing their best to screw education too.

After all this discouragement, I am reminded that there is a lot of positive energy in the world, and we must channel it so that it works for good. Think of the Occupy Wall Street crowd; the movement is just getting going, and has every chance to stimulate some changes for the better.

We shall see.

(This post first appeared at my other (now deleted) blog, and was transferred to this blog on 21 January 2021.)