Wednesday, January 9, 2013

American Teacher

Last week I got a chance to see the documentary American Teacher , narrated by Matt Damon.  In recent years we have seen Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere.  No single movie can adequately analyze all the issues in American education, and this is no different.  The reality is that the problems are complex, the solutions more so.  Whether you agree or disagree with the agendas of any of these films, the point is to get engaged.

American Teacher looks at the challenges that four great teachers face to make a living.  The film takes an intimate look at four specific teachers drawing out some trends and generalizations based on their experiences.  The overarching point is that teachers don’t get paid particularly well.  We’ve heard that point a million times, but in this movie there is some nuance.  Teachers don’t make enough to support a family on the teacher’s salary as the sole income.  Teachers don’t make much relative to their similarly educated peers, particularly later in their careers.  Teachers love their work and often do it regardless of the pay.  If you pay teachers well you might just attract the best and the brightest.  Many teachers do so as a calling, as a value statement, as an avocation.  Losing such teachers is painful for communities, their families and for them. 

The movie is worth seeing.  Start some conversation over it.  What can we do to change the situation?  What is the role of merit pay?  Unions?  Tenure and job security?  What are the benefits of teaching beyond the paycheck?  In hard economic times for virtually everyone, where does the money come from?

You can tell what a society values but watching what it pays for.     

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