Sunday, September 8, 2013

How About An Educational Documentary Worth Watching?

On Friday night, like many educators, I found myself watching CBS’s Teach. Within minutes though, I found my mind wandering and my frustration growing. I began to channel surf. Then a friend and co-worker texted me, “Good documentary on CBS called Teach.”

I flipped back, thinking, “Maybe I’m just too cynical about anything created by Davis Guggenheim.”

Admittedly, I wasn’t a huge fan of Guggenheim's Waiting for Superman, so maybe my bias was clouding my judgment. Knowing teachers would be talking about Teach on Monday, I tried to stick it out. I began multi-tasking—if I’m going to watch this I mind as well be productive and learn something. Anything.

For me Teach was too cheeky and almost propagandist. While I have no problem with the Khan Academy, we cannot seriously believe that it’s the solution to our educational issues. The teachers profiled in Teach clearly have made a difference in the lives of their students—as have hundreds of thousands of other teachers.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Guggenheim paradoxically states, “The strange thing I found is that very few people can tell you what makes great teaching….That’s why we start Teach with the simple premise of ‘What is a teacher, and what do they do.’”

I struggle to agree with the premise that we don’t know what makes great teachers. We do. Research abounds with what makes a teacher great. Additionally, instead of focusing on being great, why not focus on simply allowing teachers to teach well.

Today, too many teachers are handcuffed by overwhelmingly detailed and complex standards with rigid pacing guides. Instead of focusing on real teaching and meaningful learning, time is spent preparing students for the next standardized test.

Teach, in conjunction with, kicks off an 18-month campaign to urge students and recent graduates to enter the teaching profession. If that is Teach’s goal, shouldn’t the focus be on schools that have downplayed increasing standardization? On schools that give teachers the freedom to do what’s best? On schools where teachers are respected, purpose-driven and strive to become masters of their crafts?

That would be an inspiring documentary and one worth watching.

So Mr. Guggenheim, how about it? 

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