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Davis Guggenheim Turns His Camera Back onto Teachers

Hillel Aron | August 30, 2013

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Davis Guggenheim, Director of New Documentary, 'Teach'

Davis Guggenheim, Director of New Documentary, ‘Teach’

Davis Guggenheim, the director of An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting for Superman, has a new film coming out — Teach, a two-hour documentary premiering Sept. 6 on CBS (which means Time Warner cable customers may not be able to watch it).

The film follows four public school teachers throughout the school year, including Joel Laguna, a 10th grade AP World History teacher at Garfield High School in Los Angeles Unified.

“This was an attempt to show what a really effective teacher is,” says Guggenheim. “If we could understand that, maybe we could get more of them in the classroom.”

Whereas Waiting for Superman was sharply critical of the teachers unions (leading UTLA to call it “anti public school”) and the policies they lobby for, including work rules that make firing teachers fairly onerous, Teach appears to be more a celebration of the impact great teachers can have on kids.

At least in structure, Teach is similar to Guggenheim’s first film — The First Year — which, aired 12 years ago. In that film, he followed around five first-year LAUSD teachers for a year.

“That was much more of an observational film,” he told LA School Report. The new film, he said, poses the question, “What is a teacher? It drills down deeper. All of the films have a different point of view, but a similar connective tissue, which is, why can’t we have better schools? Why can’t we do better for our kids?”

Guggenheim’s thesis, which is familiar but not without controversy, is that great teachers make great schools.

“Certainly, a teacher can’t do everything,” he said. “And many teachers are fighting forces that are outside the classroom — social issues, poverty issues. But the best teachers I see are the ones who do whatever it takes and have a sense of mission.”

So what makes a good teacher?

“When you listen to experts, there are big debates about it. Is it an art? Is it a science? Is it test results? Is it teaching people to think? The answer is all those things. It’s a very broad, encompassing job.”

“But the great teachers are always getting better,” he added. In the film, Guggenheim talks to one teacher, who’s been in the classroom for over 30 years, who said, “The minute you think you know what what you’re doing, you should be worried.”

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