Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Teacher Salary Project, or One of the Many Reasons that I Love Matt Damon

"THE TEACHER SALARY PROJECT encompasses a feature-length documentary film, an online resource, and a national outreach campaign that delves into the core of our schools as seen through the eyes and experiences of our nation's teachers. This project is based on The New York Times bestselling book Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers by journalist and teacher Daniel Moulthrop, co-founder of 826 National and former classroom teacher N√≠nive Calegari, and writer Dave Eggers. American Teacher is produced by Calegari and Eggers, produced and directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth, and narrated by Matt Damon..."

This documentary brings up many great points, most of which I agree with. I think it is important to deal with the realities of teaching that we are people who work almost constantly during the year, that our job is not appreciated culturally, that administrators can be overwhelmed themselves and therefore support is compromised, and that the problems can be overwhelming.

My one critique of this film is that it does not address inner city schools or rural schools at all; all of the teachers and students in this film are in high- or average-performing schools with a high level of parent and community support. One indication of this, in my view, is that none of the students in this film are going to school in schools with uniforms: all are wearing what I would consider to be a "dress code" but there is no consistent uniform. It is most likely for low-performing, high-mobility schools with a large number of students coming from poverty backgrounds that all students are required to wear a uniform. It is debatable in some circles, but most likely that in higher-poverty, higher-crime urban areas, uniforms do make a positive effect in the achievement and attendance rates of students.

The film does an excellent job of making the logistical, life issues that all teachers face: how do you have your own family if the job takes up so much time and energy and pays so little? While I don't think that money is the answer to the education reform problem, I do think that higher salaries would help. In fact, one of the teachers in this film says that he understands how, when money is devoted to an area of our society and/or economy, things begin to change: there is a shift in focus and resources.

I hope they make a part two! I would like to see them come to the schools that are in real dire straits: urban schools in cities, and rural schools in the country. I would like them to examine South versus North, and address how immigration, ESL (or ESOL up here in Philly!)  and Special Education rates are affecting how schools are running their days, and approaching the organization of teaching time in the classrooms.

Now it's streaming on check it out!

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