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Waiting for Guggenheim: any value added in “Teach”?

September 6, 2013

For the third time in his documentary film career, Davis Guggenheim turns his lens towards education, this time in “Teach” – airing on CBS tonight (8-10 p.m. ET/PT).

Guggenheim’s first education-related film focused on teachers in their first year in the classroom. His next ed-flick was “Waiting for Superman” – a film that blurred the propaganda/documentary lines by adopting a rather uncritical stance of the education “reform” storyline that glorifies charter schools, vilifies unions, and puts inordinate pressure on teachers for accountability that policymakers and the general public are often able to shirk. To make that storyline seem even more emotional, Guggenheim manipulated the audience by distorting the connection between a mother and the charter school she was touring.

But Guggenheim promises us – he loves teachers. Honestly, I don’t need his love. I don’t think we need teacher-as-hero narratives – though they’re better than the opposite approach. I just hope this film is more honest about our profession. The approach this time around was for Guggenheim and crew to follow four teachers for an entire year, and if he chose the teachers and schools well, and edited more carefully, maybe we’ll see something more useful and educational this time.

Are you planning to watch? Or did you already? Is this a shot at redemption for Guggenheim? Does the film offer any valuable information or insights? Share your thoughts below.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. David Berk permalink
    September 6, 2013 5:10 pm

    NBPTS, an organization I respect, was connected in some way to this documentary or the making of it from what I understand, which made me give it more consideration than I normally would. I saw their Facebook posts and an email from NBPTS president Ron Thorpe urging folks to catch this series.
    Even so, I have concerns which remain unaddressed which will probably keep me from watching “Teach.”
    1. In the trailer, ( )along with many other positive outcomes for students, the words, “Higher Test Scores” are boldly displayed. When you consider these words and their prominence along with the skewed content of Waiting for Superman, the hint seems fairly strong that we’ll be seeing something other than a completely honest portrayal of our profession.
    2. It’d be one thing if Guggenheim produced Waiting for Superman and proclaimed a change of heart similarly to the way Diane Ravitch came to change her beliefs. When presented with a great deal of evidence contradicting the contents of his Wait for Superman film, Guggenheim seemed to do the opposite. Guggenheim asked for teachers’ feedback on his movie, got way more than he bargained for, (, and instead of responding to people’s criticisms and entering into a dialogue, he filtered many comments out. To my knowledge, he has still not responded to the substance of the many legitimate criticisms of “Superman.”
    If Guggenheim were to publicly address and accept responsibility for the distortions that have been pointed out repeatedly about “Superman.” I’d be far more likely to give “Teach” a chance. As it stands, I will most likely be staying away.

  2. September 6, 2013 8:09 pm

    While we all may not be as “squeaky clean,” as emotionally balanced or as consistently encouraging as these teachers seemed to be (editing notwithstanding), I believe this film fairly represented the bottom line for the majority of teachers. We care. And that element is so much more important than a score on a standardized test.

    Was the overall picture one that every teacher experiences in the real world of public education? Absolutely not. But all children are a challenge in one way or another even if they don’t all present themselves with angelic faces.

    Are all parents as engaged and cooperative as those in this film? Absolutely not, but that is the reality of public education. When we find ourselves feeling as though we are part of a Hollywood set, we just might find that privatization has left behind our greatest challenges in order to achieve a higher test score instead of a higher calling.

    I can’t express my appreciation enough for the celebrities who intermittently offered their homage to teachers who made a difference in their lives. Appreciation and acknowledgment from parents and students are what keep teachers going.

    For me and my experience in 17 years teaching, the defining element in finding success for these teachers was the support system offered by their mentors. My administrators never had the time or the ability to be instructional leaders. I wonder how or if these principals were able to give the same level of support or all the teachers in the school or if was reserved for these four “stars.” My district has no mentor ship program and I believe it’s primarily a function of cost, but if I could have one teacher wish fulfilled it would be for every teacher to be assigned a mentor and to have the opportunity in turn to mentor others.

  3. Jane Fung permalink
    September 6, 2013 10:43 pm

    I missed the first hour of Teach, so I don’t have a whole picture, and I did not see Waiting for Superman. I did enjoy, well maybe appreciate is more the word, his first documentary First Year. I thought that was a more real picture of what it was like in the first year of teaching. And we eventually found out that several of the teachers in that documentary left the classroom. I agree that teachers need to be celebrated and appreciated by the public, and it was nice to see celebrities “talk” about their favorite teachers, but thought it was just a quick shout out rather than maybe a more personal narrative? Just my opinion on that and although I GET the comic commercials for recruiting teachers, I am not sure I appreciated how they did it. Made it feel like anyone can teach. If you’re lost and don’t know what to do, TEACH! Yes, you will impact the future and inspire young minds, but I also don’t want just want anyone to go into the profession. It is such a passionate and huge commitment. Need to catch the first half.

  4. September 7, 2013 9:46 am

    Having seen part of Teach, I hope to see it all – have access to it at some point. I could see it as pre-viewing for local forums/conversations on teaching and impediments to teaching created by systems at all levels, including local. I liked the gritty sense of classroom life conveyed at times, yet know many teachers face far more intractable students and settings than I saw here. Still, do we want teachers to have to buy books in order for their students to have access to meaningful, engaging reading material? What ARE the effective forms of “loving the students” teachers display, are capable of, and should be expected to feel? Do we want the degree of anxiety about test scores experienced by both students and teachers, when what was tested was clearly not the more important things being learned? And what is added, really, by a pleasant enough celebrity narrator? An intimation of teaching as entertaining, perhaps? Better than Superman; worthwhile moments; much more to be done.


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