After receiving my Master’s in Education and my teaching credentials, I taught in three different settings: a large urban public school, a large suburban public school, and a tiny public charter school - San Francisco’s first.
There were huge differences in these settings in terms of resources: I was laid off from my first job due to budget cuts and our union’s “last in, first out” requirement; the second school was in a wealthy suburb with plenty of resources and meaningful professional training; and the charter school didn’t even have a building until a few weeks before the start of the year.
What the three schools had in common, however, were superb faculties. I marveled at the teachers at those schools. How David Sondheim knew the souls of every kid in the halls of Drake High. The way Jonathan Dearman brought an entire music department to our under-supplied charter school. The eye-popping science experiments that Sarah Kerley designed on a limited budget and with scrappy materials. I could go on and on.
I witnessed firsthand how these creative, warm, hilarious, and intelligent teachers made sincere connections with students and provided inspiring lessons day after day, but I knew the outside world didn’t see what I saw. I often felt and heard a very different impression of our profession.
In 2003 I was thrilled to team up with Daniel Moulthrop and Dave Eggers to attempt to address this lack of awareness. We wrote a book that collected vivid depictions of teachers’ lives. We interviewed hundreds of teachers about the complexities of their work, their passions for their profession, their frustrations with public conceptions of their value, and their financial struggles to make it all possible. We talked with people who said they would have loved to go into teaching, but didn’t want to be undervalued professionally or find themselves scraping by financially.
We also examined schools that had raised their teachers’ salaries and saw good results, including increased applications for job openings, increased teacher retention, increased graduation rates, and, yes, increased test scores.
The book was well received, and yet I wanted to speak to people beyond the educational community. The new film "American Teacher" is our attempt to bring these stories to a wider audience.
The film chronicles the stories of four teachers living and working in disparate urban and rural areas of the country. By following these teachers as they reach different milestones in their careers, our film tells the deeper story of the teaching profession in America today.
Our country is facing a remarkable opportunity right now, with almost half of our teachers eligible for retirement in the next ten years. Who do we want to take their places? The personal stories of Jonathan, Jamie, Erik, and Rhena portray the proud accomplishments and frustrating sacrifices of teachers nationwide, and will hopefully inspire a cultural shift to value the country's effective teachers.
Nínive Calegari produced "American Teacher," which opens in theaters in New York City and Los Angeles on September 30 and in San Francisco on October 7.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.