American Teacher: Like A North Korean Missile, This Documentary Misses the Target.

I’ve been an educator for almost two decades now, 19 years or so. My mother taught everything from pre-school to high school special education. My grandmother taught elementary school. My uncle was a university professor in his early career.

In my adolescent, I remember Mom bringing home papers to grade, assignments to evaluate, and lesson plans to work on. She would sometimes spread her work on the living room floor and my sister and I would gape at the massive amounts of homework high school kids had to do.

Not only would Mom work on school work most every school night, she also fixed dinner for the four of us, did our laundry, made sure my sister and I did our homework. Her life was pretty much that each night during the school year.

And not only after school. No, her day began before my sister and I got up. She often made a breakfast for my father before he left for work, too. Then, she had to rouse my sister and I. Sometimes, she would have to leave us home to see ourselves off to school because she had to be at school before students began arriving.

I’ve experienced many of those same routines myself, bringing home coursework for grading, staying late to handle student questions, arriving early to prep for class. I’ve gotten kids ready for school in morning and made sure they did homework in the afternoon (though their homework pales in comparison to the homework I had.) I have paid for class expenses from my own pocket, sacrificed time and opportunity to be on-campus.

Vanessa Roth, the “Academy Award Winning Filmmaker” at the helm of “American Teacher” didn’t seem interested in addressing A Day in the Life of a Teacher.

No, in fact I have an alternate title for her film:

“Whiny People Who Have Made Bad Choices in Their Lives Who Happen To Be Teachers.”

Look, the worse time for swimming lessons is when you are drowning. When you are in the ocean, surrounded by water, flailing away, you could be struck with the realization you should have planned differently.

Same goes for careers.

Yay! You want to be a teacher; good for you. Do you realize what teacher’s earn? Do you realize the work involved before class, after class, and at home? Do you understand the pressure from students, from peers, from administration, from parents, from school boards, from state boards, and from the federal government? Do you understand you have to be on the lookout for mental health issues of your students?

And, that is simply just the job. What about your personal life?

How much money did you borrow? What is going to be the monthly payment on your student loan debt? How long will paying off the debt take? Are you really going to be able to afford a new car your first year out of school? Or, a new house? Were you planning on starting a family?

Did you think any of these thoughts while you were in school? Or, as exemplified by the teachers in the documentary, did you graduate from college, jump from bed, start teaching, and realize 6 months later the job sort of sucks, you are not making any money, and not only are you teacher, but also parent, mentor, police officer, counselor, and parole officer?

I would guess about 45% of those people entering into teaching as a profession do not think those thoughts. 45% represents the number of teachers who leave the field within 5 years.

Roth misses her target audience with her documentary. She makes some great points, though her comments are lost in the miasma of the complaints of people who honestly should have known in advance how challenging being a teacher was going to be.

Roth is on-point about salary. Teaching salary sucks. Many teachers I know have a second job. They paint houses in the summer, do roofing, or wait tables. After a few years the salary gets better, loans are paid down or off, and financial tensions ease. If they play their cards right. Don’t buy a brand-new car, and don’t build a house, in other words.

Roth is also on-point about the esteem of teachers in other countries. Most every other developed country, England, Germany, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Japan, and South Korea, to name only a few, treat teachers as we might a surgeon, or astronaut. Only the best students are able to even attempt to enter teaching as a profession. Potential educators must pass extensive exams and scrutiny, must be highly-educated in a field, and must continue to be seek education. Abroad, teachers are government employees and are highly paid. In Finland, a teacher must hold a Master’s Degree before being allowed entry into Teacher Preparation Education.

Rather than focus on teachers who seem to illustrate people who failed Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, Roth instead should have focused on “Why Education Matters,” or “Why Educators Matter.”

Education is the foundation upon which All Good Thinks in the United States are built.

We have spent the last 12 years – 1/2 of a generation – short-changing education, cutting spending, cutting corners, cutting salaries, increasing classrooms sizes, and teaching to worthless standardized tests and the cracks in our societal foundations are beginning to show.

I was not alone in my sentiment about “American Teacher.” The friend who I accompanied voiced opinions harsher than my own, and she is studying to be a Middle School Educator. But, outside of the two of us, I think we would have been in the minority.


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