It's Official: A Documentary on the Professional Lives of Teachers
In late May, this blog reported that best-selling author Dave Eggers, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Vanessa Roth and 826 National executive director Ninive Calegari were working on a documentary that aims to inspire public support for teachers' work while offering an unvarnished view of the challenges teachers face every day. (See our recent interview with Eggers for more information about their plans.)
Yesterday, Eggers, Roth and Calegari sent out a press release announcing the launch of a new website, theteachersalaryproject.org, that they describe as "the first step in what will become a new kind of documentary film. Through your stories, your contributions, and your outreach efforts, we will change how the best teachers are valued in our society." The filmmakers are inviting teachers to share video testimonies about their own feelings and experiences. They're also sending out a casting call of sorts for "three magnificent teachers" who will become the "main characters" of the film.
The Teacher Salary Project press release follows:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Belinda Mann
VANESSA ROTH, NÍNIVE CALEGARI AND DAVE EGGERS LAUNCH THETEACHERSALARYPROJECT.ORG
Interactive website is the first stage of The Teacher Salary Project documentary
New York, NY and SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (July 25, 2008) - Fifty-percent of our nation's teachers must take on second jobs outside the classroom to be able to afford to teach. Forty-six percent of teachers leave within the first five years of teaching because of poor conditions and low salaries. These startling statistics were the central focus of the New York Times bestselling book "Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers," written by Daniel Moulthrop, Dave Eggers, and Nínive Calegari. Today, Calegari and Eggers have partnered with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth to continue the dialogue on teachers' salaries and announce the launch of an interactive website, www.theteachersalaryproject.org. The website marks the first stage of a new documentary project that will bring attention to the inequality between the importance of teachers' jobs and the pay they earn.
THE TEACHER SALARY PROJECT will be a feature-length documentary film, interactive online resource, and national outreach campaign that delves into the core of our educational crisis from the eyes and experiences of our nation's teachers. The website, which launches today, is both the first step and an integral part of the innovative filmmaking process that invites teachers, and anyone passionate about education, to participate in the making and spreading the word about the film. Visitors to the site are invited to upload their own videotaped stories on teaching, become community reform partners, and donate to the project. The evolving website will become the only digital archive of teachers' stories about teaching, from which selected submissions will become a vital part of the film.
"The purpose of THE TEACHER SALARY PROJECT is simple," says Calegari, who taught in public schools for a decade before co-founding 826 Valencia. "It is to honor teachers and to demonstrate that they're critical to the viability of our democracy. All research points to the fact that the most important component in a student's school experience is the quality of their classroom teacher. Raising the salaries of our strongest teachers will allow us to attract and retain the best possible teaching force."
"We see teacher salaries and conditions as the first step in universally improving public education in America," says Eggers. "If you treat teachers well, you bring and keep the best people in the profession. The best teachers produce the best results - any way you measure them. And a school full of excellent and fulfilled teachers can solve the school's other issues far better than can a school where teachers are underpaid, frustrated, and constantly leaving. We've got to shift our focus from constant student testing and onto teacher compensation and retention."
Roth, who has been making award-winning documentaries for over a decade, says, "The exciting part of this project from a filmmaking perspective is that we're not asking the education community to just sit back and watch our film, but to be real partners in shaping the stories we tell and the effect we have on education reform."
The documentary will tell the stories of the men and women who do the heavy lifting in education, the ones closest to our children -- the 3.2 million teachers who spend every day in classrooms in every corner of the country. The film will follow 3-5 teachers at different stages in their careers, all of whom are struggling with the conditions in which they're teaching. Weaving in commentary by policy experts on every side of the debate, the film will bring awareness to the real and imminent crisis in our educational system. In keeping with the storytelling styles of Eggers and Roth, the documentary will be a character-driven film, which will tell moving and compelling stories that explore this urgent issue through humor, warmth, provocative questions, and the energy of the teachers who fill the screen.
The result will show how devastating the effect of poor teacher conditions are on schools and children. Where teachers are underpaid, staff turnover is constant, schools are unstable, and students are taught by substitutes and poorly trained teachers, the results are predictably awful. By contrast, in schools where teachers can afford to build a life as an educator, the teachers grow and gain mastery, the schools attract the best from around the country, and test scores and college admissions soar. America can dramatically change its education system within a generation. Focusing on attracting, supporting and retaining the best teacher force in history is the first step in doing so.
The film will be produced by Calegari, Roth, and Eggers, and directed by Roth.
An Academy Award and Dupont-Columbia Award-winning filmmaker, Ms. Roth has been making pivotal social issue documentaries for more than a decade. Some of her award-winning films include: Taken In: The Lives of America's Foster Children; Close to Home; Aging Out; Schools of the 21st Century; The Third Monday in October; 9/11's Toxic Dust and Freeheld. She holds a master's degree in social work and a minor in family law from Columbia University. Before making films, Ms. Roth worked as a child advocate in New York's Family Court, the New York school system, and the Los Angeles Rape Treatment Center.
Ms. Calegari, the cofounder and former Executive Director of 826 Valencia, now serves as the CEO of 826 National. 826 National is a literacy nonprofit that galvanizes communities to help students ages 8 to 18 with their writing skills. Calegari is a veteran public school teacher who has had ten years of classroom experience. She holds a master's in education in teaching and curriculum from Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. Presently, she is an advisory board member of the George Lucas Educational Foundation and of Leadership High School, and a San Francisco Arts Commissioner. She is also the recipient of Edutopia's 2007 Daring Dozen award for being among twelve people "reshaping the future of education."
Mr. Eggers is the author of five books: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, You Shall Know Our Velocity!, How We Are Hungry, Teachers Have It Easy, and What Is the What. He is the founder and editor of McSweeney's, a quarterly magazine and book-publishing company, and is co-founder of 826 Valencia. In 2004 he co-taught a class at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, out of which grew the Voice of Witness series of books, designed to illuminate contemporary human crises through oral history. He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and is the recipient of the 2007 Heinz Award for Arts & Humanities and the 2008 TED Award.
Image Credit: The Teacher Salary Project
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- Actress/Mathematician Danica McKellar on girls and math
- Best Selling Author Kenneth C. Davis on engaging with history
- Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Danielson on providing health care at school
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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