American Teacher: Documentary Review
Teaching is a tough job. That much is made clear in the documentary American Teacher which was directed by Vanessa Roth. It’s a job that pays highly-educated professionals very little for such long hours. Teaching also requires great personal sacrifice, such as spending individual funds on classroom supplies, forgoing family time to attend school functions or grade papers, and even working a second or third job in order to barely cover the expenses of an average family.
The documentary brings attention to the popular public opinion that teachers have short workdays and lots of vacation time. In reality, the workday of a teacher is 10-11 hours long, with another 15 hours through out the week spent on planning and grading at home, for a whopping 65-hour work week. As a former English teacher with six years of classroom experience, I can vouch for the accuracy of that estimate. One former teacher in the video referred to “the insane work hours” required.
Another popular opinion is that “anybody can teach.” The Harvard grad featured in the video then asks, “Well who would you want to teach your children then?” It’s important to note that same teacher now works in a position at a charter school that opted to pay its teachers a yearly salary of $125,000 by finding ways to reallocate public funds.
Just a few enlightening statistics on the teaching profession included:
• 31% hold second jobs
• 62% hold second jobs if coaching and advising are taken into consideration.
• 46% quit before their fifth year.
• 20% quit at urban schools every year
• 14% less in pay is made compared to professions that require similar education.
At only 80 minutes, what American Teacher does not make clear are ways to alleviate the profession’s woes. High attrition rates carry costs for everyone, economically and intellectually. An additional 30 minutes of footage would have provided the time to start a much needed exploration.
A brief comparison is drawn between America’s school system and more successful systems from Singapore, South Korea, and Finland. The valuation of teachers must encompasses selective recruiting, funded training, competitive compensation, a professional working environment, cultural respect, being career-oriented, as well as looking at a school’s annual teaching turnover.
The video ends by pointing out that despite challenges, educators persevere. I beg to differ. The profession is in shambles. What’s your take? What would help alleviate the profession’s woes and keep quality teachers in the classroom?