Aired On: CBS
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
There isnít much on television on Fridays right now. That turned out to be a fortunate turn of events this past Friday (September 6, 2013) when a documentary called Teach aired at 8pm EST on the CBS network. The premise sounded interesting enough Ė four young teachers in various locations are followed as they attempt to help their students achieve the yearís goals, but run into a number of obstacles along the way. I was intrigued enough to watch the two hour documentary narrated by Queen Latifah.
We enter the classrooms of the following teachers: Matt Johnson, a fourth-grade teacher in Denver, Colorado; Shelby Harris, a seventh-grade math teacher in Kuna, Idaho; Lindsay Chinn, a ninth-grade algebra teacher in Denver, Colorado; and Joel Laguna, a high school World History Advanced Placement teacher in East Los Angeles, California. Each of these teachers are young and willing to do what it takes to get their students to where they need to be, but all face obstacles like students who are behind in math and reading or are unable to express analytical thoughts in clear and concise terms.
In Lindsay Chinnís case, she and her principal try a new 360⁰ writing board approach that will allow her to see all of her students complete algebra problems at the same time. Shelby Harris is also trying something new and innovative Ė a new Kahn Academy computer-based math teaching program. But both teachers face issues with students who are far behind where they should be on the math learning scale.
Matt Johnson also has a problem with students that are far behind where they should be, but in his case itís on the reading scale. If he canít find new and innovative ways to get his students interested in reading, let alone getting them close to the level they are expected to be in. Joel Lagunaís students are taking his class in an effort to gain college credits and truly want to be challenged so they can achieve greatness beyond high school. However, his students have trouble writing to express themselves clearly and analytically enough to pass that AP test.
Having been taught by some brilliant and innovative teachers over the years Ė teachers like my elementary school creative writing teacher Michael Shaw who was a terrific inspiration for me, among others Ė I can personally say that the right teacher, that teacher who cares more about doing what they can to help their students than the amount of free time they have or the salaries they collect, is extremely important in a studentís life, now and in the future. These four teachers are willing to do everything to inspire their students and see them succeed and they deserve the highest praise. I especially enjoyed the moments during the breaks in the story where actors told us stories about the teachers that were inspirations in their lives.
Iím not a teacher in the same sense as these educators, but I do have to teach folks skills and information they will need to succeed in their jobs. That being said, I understand just how difficult teaching can be in this day and age where those attending classes are highly distracted by things inside and outside the classroom environment. Gone are the days where you can stand in front of the classroom, write a bunch of data on the board and get the students to absorb and understand the content. Now, innovative new styles are needed to captivate the classroom and interaction is needed in order to ensure that attentions are kept and material absorbed and understood.
To face such a daunting task, be willing to confront it and succeed makes these teachers heroes, especially when you realize just how shockingly far behind some of these kids are in their learning. Teach makes you care about these four teachers and their students in a way that has you rooting for their success. Teach is an emotional and enlightening documentary that I believe is a must see for educators, aspiring educators and parents.