American Teacher

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
American Teacher Movie Poster Image
Convincing docu highlights underappreciated teachers.
  • NR
  • 2011
  • 88 minutes

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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 & Representations

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.


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

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

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?

Talk to your kids 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love real stories

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate