American Teacher



Convincing docu highlights underappreciated teachers.
  • Review Date: September 30, 2011
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 88 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The clear message of the movie is that teachers are underpaid, underappreciated, and undervalued, and we should do something about it.

Positive role models

The teachers profiled here make excellent role models, happy to dedicate themselves to the task of educating kids and making the world a better place.

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A few nationally known retail stores such as Circuit City are mentioned.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this convincing documentary drives home the message that the United States has failed to invest in its teachers. There's no swearing, drinking, sex, or anything else that could be inappropriate for young viewers, but the emphasis on the failures of the U.S. educational system might be too disheartening for kids, and without clear solutions, the film could leave young viewers hopeless rather than motivated to work for change.

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What's the story?

Few people go into teaching expecting to get rich, yet the profession continues to attract bright, enthusiastic young people who are happy to make a difference in children's lives. Sadly, according to AMERICAN TEACHER, many of them don’t realize that the dysfunctional system will require them to work close to 60 hours a week for wages that are barely above the poverty level. The documentary, narrated by Matt Damon, features in-depth profiles of several stand-out teachers -- all of whom are feeling burnt out by the demands of this difficult job -- as well as stark statistics that back up the claim that we may be losing committed educators like them forever.

Is it any good?


American Teacher is informative, convincing, and disheartening. Certainly, most viewers understand that a good teacher makes a big difference in the classroom; this film breaks down the numbers. A great teacher can actually increase a student's lifetime earnings. Multiply that by every kid in the class and every class over the teacher's career, and that's a pretty big boost to society. Sadly, most of the numbers in this documentary go the other direction. It explodes the myth that teachers have a short, cushy workday and shows in one profile after another that salaries are far too low.


The heart of the film is its interviews with actual teachers. They all share a desire to inspire kids, and all are spit out by an educational system that takes everything they have and gives little back. Nevertheless, the film is short on solutions. Yes, teachers ought to be paid more and appreciated more fully, but how can we effect that change? The film steers clear of discussions about the efficacy of unions and the relentless pursuit of test prep that critics say steers teacher performance away from the business of actual teaching, leaving audiences hanging. Is there a way out?

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about teachers. Would you like to be a teacher? What do you think about the job after watching this film? Did you know that teachers have so many responsibilities outside the classroom?

  • What are some solutions to the problems addressed in this movie? Why do you think the movie doesn't offer a clear answer? Is any part of this discussion left out of the movie?

  • Do you think teachers are adequately paid? How does teachers' compensation affect their performance and, ultimately, society?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 30, 2011
DVD release date:February 14, 2012
Cast:Matt Damon
Director:Vanessa Roth
Studio:First Run Features
Run time:88 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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