USA, 2011, 81 min
As the debate over the state of America’s public school system rages on, one thing everyone (including President Obama) agrees on is the need for great teachers. Yet, while research proves that teachers are the most important school factor in a child’s future success, America’s teachers are so woefully underpaid that almost a third must divide their time between a second job in order to make a living. Chronicling the stories of four teachers in different areas of the country, American Teacher reveals the frustrating realities of today’s educators, the difficulty of attracting talented new teachers and why so many of our best teachers choose to leave the profession altogether. One of the very few black teachers at Leadership High School in San Francisco, Jonathan Dearman, loved his job, and his students adored him. But his inability to support his family led him to pursue a new career and left his students devastated by his departure. An elementary school teacher in New Jersey, Rhena is fresh out of Harvard and personifies the smart, young teacher anyone would want for their kids. But even her strong commitment to her students ultimately gets pushed aside when weighed against her own financial needs. Their stories are disheartening, but this wake-up call to our system’s failings also looks at possibilities for reform. Can we re-value teaching in the United States and turn it into a prestigious, financially attractive and competitive profession? With almost half of American teachers leaving the field in the next five years, now is the time to find out.
This is a Cinema by the Bay film. Presented in association with 826 Valencia, The Teacher Salary Project. World Premiere.