Teaching Profession

‘TEACH Roadtrip’ Embraces Teaching In and Out of the Classroom

By Ross Brenneman — September 19, 2014 4 min read
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The word comes across as a command: TEACH. Over the past year, a variety of interlocking efforts have implored young people to consider a career in education using this uppercase mandate.

The latest campaign comes from “TEACH Roadtrip,” a televised jaunt around the country with three aspiring educators as they interview teachers of all stripes, in and out of the classroom.

The project is a collaboration between Roadtrip Nation and Participant Media. The latter company runs Pivot, a year-old cable channel dedicated to youth-oriented social justice issues. Participant Media also produced the Davis Guggenheim films “TEACH” (which inspired this iteration of the roadtrip series) and, more famously, “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” Guggenheim’s controversial documentary on the U.S. public education system.

Unlike the politically oriented “Superman,” “TEACH” focuses on the daily struggles of a select group of public school teachers across the country, generally leaving out policy issues. The new roadtrip series proceeds similarly, following hosts Nadia Bercovich, Rafael Silva, and Grace Worm as they travel by RV to over a dozen cities and interview more than two dozen educators about their lives as teachers, with the promise of asking some hard and personal questions.

The educators chosen for interviews are purposefully not all classroom teachers, because even as the series celebrates teaching, it recognizes that teachers can be all kinds of things: game designers, foundation organizers, online-course designers, etc. Only six of those interviewed in the show are current classroom practitioners.

In a panel discussion before an audience of Maryland students at the Newseum earlier this month, the roadtrippers emphasized that elasticity within teaching. The discussion also featured U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who’s no stranger to these kinds of promotions. In April, for example, he joined a panel at George Washington University sponsored by TEACH.org, an online version of the TEACH campaign* that’s loosely associated with TEACH grants, a federal scholarship that gives money to students who plan to become teachers in low-income schools. (See if you can spot the theme.)

There’s a heartfelt message at the center of “TEACH Roadtrip": Teaching is a good way to create positive social change in a number of different ways. The project operates in a similar mold to other TEACH ideas: To make the teaching profession look more attractive than it might currently.

In an interview with Education Week Teacher, Silva emphasized the variety of opportunities available to teachers. “You don’t have to go to a monotonous job, into a classroom in some public school in some city you didn’t necessarily want to be in and teach there for the rest of your life,” he said.

But that perception of classroom teaching as endless drudgework is kind of a problem, isn’t it? There’s enough anecdote and data combined to reinforce the idea that teaching seems that way. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the teaching profession is growing at a below-average rate compared to other areas, and a recent poll from the National Center on Education Statistics shows that 53 of percent of those who left the teaching profession in 2012-13 reported better working condition in their new positions.

I would suspect many young people understand that teaching can be rewarding and a vehicle for social change; there’s no shortage of teachers who say the work is fulfilling. If so, then the recruitment problem would seem like much more of a retention problem, a result of the various policies, politics, compensation, and management that drive attrition, and thus the field’s reputation.

Is there a proper time to tell a would-be teacher that the job is often more “Up the Down Staircase” than “Dead Poets Society”?

“I think there were a lot of realities of teaching that they either didn’t talk about or didn’t experience,” said Trekker Williams, STEM department chair for North County High School in Anne Arundel, Md., who attended the Newseum panel. “And I don’t necessarily mean negative, I just mean the realities of the job, of the 40-student classes and the challenges that are presented with teachers these days.”

Maybe instead of “TEACH,” there should be a series called “STAY.”

Worm said that the roadtrippers, not yet being teachers, wouldn’t want to try to speak for teachers on issues of policy, and Silva added that the goal was to focus on educators’ personal stories, as a kind of guiding light both for interested youth and the roadtrippers themselves.

Amy Peterschmidt, a German teacher in Anne Arundel who attended the panel, liked the focus on recruitment.

“Taking time to consider empowering people to come into teaching in any of the forms that you can teach is really necessary,” she said. But more gratifying, perhaps, was just the attention being paid to her career. “It was really nice to hear about teaching being spoken of in such positive terms. ... To have a roadtrip going on with the topic of teaching is pretty cool.”

“TEACH Roadtrip” premieres on Pivot TV in October.

*That would be the Education Department’s TEACH campaign, not Participant Media’s TEACH campaign. Just to be clear. Because of all the TEACHing.

Image: Grace Worm, Rafael Silva, and Nadia Bercovich describe their experience at a panel discussion at the Newseum in Washington. Credit: Ross Brenneman, who needs the iPhone 6 camera

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.