Friday, January 04, 2013

"American Teacher": will the US get serious about teaching as a profession?

American Teacher”,  directed by Vanessa Roth, Brian McGinn (2011, from First Run Features, 79 minutes) documents the argument that the United States needs to get serious about making teaching a profession.  Finland, Singapore and South Korea all do it; why can’t we?
The film focuses on four specific new teachers. One of these is a man who needs a second job to support his family and eventually leaves for financial reasons.  Another has a baby and needs to deal with lactation after going back to work.  
The film points out that 90% of teachers buy supplies out of their own pockets, and that new teachers are often given the “toughest classes”, with the least promising students.  In a country like Finland, expecting teachers to pay for their own supplies would be unthinkable and unprofessional. 

But in the United States we seem to have a mentality that teaching should require sacrifice. But there is a long history, where most academic public school teachers were women (the men typically doubled as athletic coaches) and, in the world of a few decades ago, did not have to be paid as much; married teachers counted on their husband’s support.   As a result of subtle social prejudice, teaching lost its standing as a desirable profession.

Today there is a real schism in the challenge posed by disadvantaged students, who need to be “reached”.  It is a pleasure to teach a ninth grader with the cognition and “near social maturity” of a young adult.  (Let me add, kids that perform – in drama, music, etc – nearly always seemed more mature when I was subbing a few years ago.  To be honest, teens that attend a church or synagogue, mosque, or equivalent – it can be conservative or liberal on issues – seem to be more mature.)  At the other end, kids need parenting skills from teachers, something that is a challenge from someone who did not have his own kids.  That may be true of men; in earlier generations, though, there were a lot of unmarried female teachers who were still expected to know how to care for kids (as kids, not developing adults). 

There's a great line from a kid -- a teacher has to be a good "explainer" -- particularly with math (algebra).  
The official site is here

Matt Damon provides the narration.  

Picture: Career Center, Arlington County Public Schools (VA).  

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