Opinion
Education Opinion

A Cranky Review of “Teach”

By Nancy Flanagan — September 07, 2013 2 min read

There was lots of conversation--pre-hype--about the doc/movie Teach on CBS last night. I tried to avoid “judging before watching” syndrome, and kept in mind that people do change their minds, based on evidence (see: Diane Ravitch).

So--I watched Teach last night. And yes, like many in the Twitterverse, felt my heartstrings yanked. I saw and warm-bathed in all the soft-focus messages of four earnest young teachers who are totally in it “for the kids.”

Really. I believed ‘em. They’re concerned and determined to do their best. They believe they can make a difference. Go for it, guys. We all like a good teacher success story--they’re a classic storyline, here in up-by-your-bootstraps America. Teach helpfully included several fictional-teacher clips, from Sidney Poitier to Robin Williams, to prime our emotional pump, in case the real teachers weren’t enough.

Then, you could see the pre-crafted story arc emerging:

• Troubled schools. Poor but deserving kids. Teachers working so very, very hard, caring so very, very much. They’re heroes! (And they actually are--so we’re hooked into the narrative. We like these young teachers.)

• But...bad news: Test scores down! Way down! Plus: Some of these kids aren’t sure if they can get to college. And if they don’t go to college... well, is life even worth living, then?

Khan and other teacher-fixing experts to the rescue! (Subliminal adverts for Khan Academy: I counted four.) And guess what? Direct instruction, which worked just fine in the olden days, is no longer effective. A cartoon told us so.

• Nail-biting (with moody music): Will the scores improve? Have all their efforts been in vain? Only the tests will tell...

• They do improve! Two years’ worth for many kids. The Scores! The Scores! (Academic equivalent of Winning the Big Game, carrying Rudy on our shoulders.)

• Cue violins--thanks, hero-teachers! We’re so sad we can’t have you next year, now that you’ve fixed us! But we’ll always remember you.

OK, perhaps that was over the line. I did appreciate Teach‘s effort to highlight the intellectual complexity and intense humanity of teaching. But the subtext still bothers me, this morning.

Bottom line: Davis Guggenheim learns his lesson, and drafts a new, Gates-funded education-film agenda. Makes a much more subtle, touching and insidious film. He doesn’t hack on teachers (his mistake in Waiting for Superman) and leaves unions out of the conversation. The administrators in this film are capable instructional coaches, not the irrational public-school crazies portrayed in WFS.

Instead, he elevates and admires the following:
• young teachers as best prospects for the profession
• teacher as sacrificing hero--notice that no traces of the teachers’ personal lives crept into the year-long focus?
• test scores as reliable truth
• school and teacher as determining factors in child’s life prospects

And, of course, Khan.

If you’d like to see a much better film, where twenty teachers set out to improve themselves, and reality intervenes, watch The Mitchell Twenty.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools
Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.
High School Permanent Substitute Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
MS STEM Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read