American Teacher is an eye-opening documentary that exposes the harsh realities’ teachers in America face when they enter the educational workforce. Despite our country’s high demand on people achieving a higher education we do not value and respect the people who devote their lives to making this possible. The film follows the lives of four teachers and exposes their difficult journey as a teacher in America. American Teacher sets out to raise awareness about our national outlook of under appreciating and under paying educators and attempts to alter the view of teachers to become a more desirable and appreciated job.
Every day, Jamie Fidler, Jonathan Dearmen, Erik Benner and Rhena Jasey enter a classroom filled with young minds with limitless potential. However, low funding, long hours, and lack of appreciation make it difficult for more people to devote their lives to educating. Jamie Fidler a teacher of eleven years began her experience in the classroom spending $3,000 out of her own pocket in order to supply her classroom with essential items. Since then she has been working a second and sometimes third job in order to make an appropriate living for her family. Following that we meet Rhena Jasey, a Harvard graduate who was criticized for choosing education as a profession due to her prestigious college education. Next we are introduced to Erik Benne, a Texas history teacher and coach who are loved dearly by his students. Due to the low salary of teachers and his family’s needs, he works another job in order to have a higher income. Finally, we meet Jonathan Dearman, a man who adored his profession, but was forced out of the classroom due to lack of salary.
Each of these teachers is committed to their profession yet face harsh realities that are associated with their career. The most unfortunate problem that each of these educators face is the lack of salary, which forces many educators out of the classroom as we saw with Dearman. Although these teachers are dedicated to their profession, the lack of money is a hindrance on their entire lives. Each one of these teachers is afraid of survival, whether it is family or personal needs; money is a factor that can not be ignored. The fact that 62% of teachers have a second job outside of their classroom hinders their ability to commit everything they have to their students (McGinn, Roth 00:41:28). “Almost half of teachers leave before their fifth year many citing the low salary and difficult working conditions” (McGinn, Roth 00:41:28) The drastic number of teachers with second jobs as well as high percentage of teachers leaving the profession creates great concerns for the future of the American education system. American Teacher illustrates the immense hardships educators face, but also serves as a warning to our country about our educational system. The decline in teacher conditions and pay directly correlates with student achievement. Among industrialized nations we rank in the middle of the pack 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math. These ranking limits our potential as a country and the only way to raise test scores and prepare young people for global competition we must encourage students to consider teaching as a profession. (McGinn, Roth 00:16:30) The negative stigma associated with teaching drives people away from the profession and therefore negatively influences the future of America.
In our culture, it is now expected that a person graduates college, and it is becoming more common that graduate school is the next step. The pressure and demand to achieve an education begins in elementary school and the people who guide and assist students are not respected in our culture. In our country doctors and lawyers are considered prestigious jobs, yet there would be no doctors or lawyers without educators. As a country we need to change the viewpoint people have with teachers and encourage people to choose teaching as a career path. Educators deserve a higher standing in society and the choice to become a teacher must be valued as opposed to looked down on.
A yahoo news article by Liz Goodwin explores the disparities from the film. The film implies that an underlying problem in our education system is the low salary teachers earn and that teachers need to be paid more. Goodwin explains the split in education reform on whether to “raise base salaries altogether or compensate some teachers more by handing out bonuses based on student test scores” (Goodwin P. 1) Goodwin discusses work done by Economist Eric Hanushek who claims that “raising teacher pay across the board would have little to no effect on students test scores” (Goodwin P.1). Instead of raising pay as a whole he feels that there are alternative ways for teachers to improve students success one of which is “hand out bonuses to those who are lifting scores called merit pay” (Goodwin Page 1). The argument Hanushek is making claims that paying everyone the same amount will not result in better teachers instead he feels the merit pay will reward the good teachers. The alternative views about teacher salary create concern because there are many approaches that may be deemed the “best”. Overall this article is exploring the different options not discussed in the film that are available in order to raise the performance of teachers in America.
Overall, American Teacher illustrates the necessity of valuing educators. The low salaries and low appreciation these people receive will eventually damage Americas education system entirely. The hardship these four teachers faced were troubling and appalling. It is educators that are the foundation of young peoples futures and therefore it is our responsibility as a country to respect and provide for these people who are devoting their lives to the future of America.
“About the Project .” Teacher Salary Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb 2014. <http://www.theteachersalaryproject.org/about-the-project.php>.
Jeri . “The Progressive Press.” The Progressive Press RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2014. <http://www.progressivepress.net/american-teacher-documentary-review/>.
Roth, Vanessa, and Brian McGinn. American Teacher. Video documentary, 2011.http://www.theteachersalaryproject.org/.
Yahoo News, Liz Goodwin. “‘American Teacher’ Film Argues Teachers Aren’t Paid Enough, but Ignores Merit Pay Debate.” Yahoo! News. Yahoo!, 26 Sept. 2011. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.