American Teacher is a documentary that chronicles the trials and tribulations of different teachers in different schools in America. The documentary covers topics such as race and teaching, gender and teaching, teaching wages and teacher turnover. I think that the filmmakers wished to show that teaching in American elementary and middle schools is much harder than some policy makers and journalists give them credit for. The emphasis of the documentary’s focus on the long hours of teaching really shows the filmmaker’s stance on the importance of dedicated teachers. The documentary urges that teachers need to receive higher salaries in order to keep good, hardworking teachers in schools and not in other jobs.
This film tackles the problems associated with school budgeting. In the early portion of the film we are shown a young New York teacher Jamie Fidler. She describes her normal day which lasts for over 10 hours. She is a pregnant woman who is still working in the schools during her pregnancy. Jamie recalls her first year of teaching and some of the poor conditions, “I had no idea how much I was going to have to spend of my own pocket because I really didn’t get anything” (5:57). The lack of good budgeting becomes a focal point of the movie. The film follows this quote with a still shot that says “In her first year of teaching, Jamie spent over $3,000 on essential supplies for her classroom” (6:07). If teachers are expected to do such a great amount of work on such little salaries than they shouldn’t be expected to pay for the necessary tools to educate.
The documentary continues and shifts its focus onto a Middle School History teacher named Erik Benner. This teacher talks about his desire to inspire kids but how it’s also so hard to balance this with his family and financial obligations. He talks about how when he first got into the profession he was really ecstatic because it was his first real job and he thought that the $27,000 that he was earning yearly was going to really be a boost. Overtime he found out that with a family and a child and student loans that it was going to be a lot harder than he expected to survive. With his story the documentary goes on to introduce statistics about the decline of male teachers in the teaching profession from 1970 to today. In 1970 there were 34% male teachers, in 2002 there were 22% male teachers and now there are only 16% of male teachers (13:45). The film cites reasons such as very low pay as a reason why more men aren’t getting involved. Male teachers are very important in schools because they make the schools more diverse and provide positive role models for male and female students who might not necessarily relate to female teachers.
I think one of the most important scenes in this film is when a young law school student stresses the importance of his former high school teacher. This young student stresses the importance of his teacher who had to leave teaching for financial reasons. “He was like a pillar of leadership at the high school. (45:35).” Another student follows this with some of the same sentiments for this teacher.
This film asks its viewers to support American teachers in a better way than they have been. The film calls to action for higher wages and more respect for the teaching profession. In its conclusion we see some of the most inspiring teachers having to leave the profession in order to get more money. Testimonies from the students draw on the viewers heart strings and really causes an emotional reaction for the viewers. I think that the film also is geared towards women’s rights as well. One of the saddest factors is when the pregnant teacher, Jamie Fidler was forced to come back to work after only 6 weeks after having her child.
I think that this movie makes a great case that teachers should be given higher salaries. At 1:04 an important graph shows that some states with higher wages for teachers also see positive effects in areas of achievement. For example teacher compensation and higher accountability leads to higher test scores and lower dropout rates. Towards the movies conclusion we are provided a testimonial from a man who describes the lack of respect for the teaching profession. He starts, “My son just graduated from college this year and he’s making way more selling cellphones for Verizon than he ever could as a teacher” (1:12:09). The documentary makes a clear effort in trying to convince people that teachers should be paid a lot more money.