Film Review: American Teacher

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/velvettangerine/3922005142/">velvettangerine</a>/Flickr


American Teacher

THE TEACHER SALARY PROJECT

81 minutes

When Rhena Jasey decided to become a public-school teacher, her friends were appalled: “You went to Harvard!” she recalls them saying. “You should be a doctor or a lawyer.” Jasey is one of four teachers profiled by director Vanessa Roth and coproducers Dave Eggers and Nínive Calegari as they address the hottest question in education reform: how to attract and retain great teachers? That, education experts agree, is the single most effective thing a school can do to boost student achievement. Real wages for teachers, the filmmakers argue, have been in a 30-year decline. One subject, a history teacher and coach, makes just $54,000 after 15 years on the job. He supplements that by driving a forklift—indeed, the film reports that 31 percent of US teachers take second jobs to get by. But instead of support, they get the blame for lackluster test scores. With more than half of the nation’s 3.2 million public pedagogues coming up for retirement in the next decade, American Teacher succeeds in reframing education’s abstract ideological battles in terms of kitchen-table realities.

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  • Kristina Rizga

    Kristina Rizga is a former education correspondent at Mother Jones. You can reach her at kristina@rizga.com. Rizga covers education, focusing primarily on how school reforms affect students and teachers in the classrooms, and how policies create or reduce racial disparities in schools. She is the author of Mission High (Nation Books, 2015).