Before I got a chance to review it, I had heard about the documentary, American Teacher. I was excited by the preview; however, it fell a little short for me when it came to keeping me emotionally engaged.
American Teacher is narrated by Matt Damon and follows the lives of four current and former teachers in the American public school system. These four teachers come from different parts of the country and all come from different backgrounds.
Although this documentary provides a lot of facts that most people don’t know about teaching, it lacks a real emotional edge. Through interviews and classroom footage we learn the stories of the three out of the four teachers that are still teaching. (The fourth has left teaching and makes much more money in the real estate market and actually seems much happier.) The film also uses interviews from other former educators and people who still work in education to fully show the sad state of teaching in America.
The story of coach and teacher Eric Benner is the most compelling in this film. He has to work three jobs just to make ends meet and loses his marriage because of having to work so hard. His love of teaching and coaching clearly changes the lives of his students and you can see his heart is for his students.
The bright side the film shows there are some programs that are working to better conditions for teachers. However, they are so few and far between that American Teacher leaves you without a huge feeling of hope and more the feeling that it’s going to take a long, long time for things to get better.
The facts presented in this documentary about the state of teaching in America are both surprising and not. It’s not surprising that teachers don’t make a lot of money; most people know that. And it must feel awful to have to leave your passion and profession behind because you cannot afford to live off of it. But on the surprising side are some of the numbers that the film provides about the decline of new teachers in America and teaching salary growth compared to other professions. Overall, American Teacher felt more like an informational video for a fundraiser than a documentary that had a real story arc. I understand non-fiction isn’t always dramatic, but it should have some drama if you are going to make a film about it.
The DVD has some extra interviews but they are extras for a reason and didn’t really add to my experience any more.
American Teacher needs to go back to the editing room and build a better arc with more at stake if it really wants to achieve the impact it had hoped for. This is not the film that is going to make the ultimate push for educators, but it will help.