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American teacher

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There are 3.2 million teachers in the United States. 

Thirty-one percent of teachers have second jobs. Before their fifth year, 46 percent of teachers quit.

The documentary “American Teacher” shown Thursday, April 24, at the Cameron Art Museum highlighted these figures while telling the story of the challenge four teachers in different parts of the country face.

“Free public education is the backbone of democracy,” said Sandy Younce, chairman of the Tarheel Alliance of Classroom Teachers who has spent 43 years working in education. “…We need to put our priority of spending where it’s needed. If we don’t educate our youth, that’s the future, I don’t know what will happen.”

The filmmakers followed a pregnant teacher in a New York elementary school, a female teacher in a Colorado middle school, a male teacher in a Texas middle school and a female teacher in a New Jersey elementary school since 2008.

Younce said the movie’s purpose is to show how difficult it is for teachers to stay in education. 

“It’s showing the real teacher instead of this make-believe teacher that some people have in mind,” Younce said.

His organization is looking toward May’s General Assembly short session decisions regarding education.

 “We’re talking about this mindset of the general assembly against teachers and against public education in North Carolina,” Younce said.

In the next 10 years, 1.8 million teachers will retire.

Only 15 percent of teachers are black or Latino. The amount of male teachers has decreased from 34 percent in 1970 to 22 percent in 2002 down to 16 percent.

Ninety percent of teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies.

“It’s really representative of a plight that’s facing our state,” said Molly Murphy, interim co-director of Working Films. “…They’re giving everything with so little compensation in return, that commitment coupled with the weight of really our children’s future success and these people can’t. It’s pretty incredible.”

Following the film, organizers handed out postcards to attendees with local legislators’ addresses to tell their own stories as teachers and parents. 

Benita Burney has been teaching for 13 years and is currently a second-grade teacher at Snipes Academy of Arts and Design. She is also a member of the Black Arts Alliance.

“Overall, it did have a good picture of the hours worked, the amount of pay that we get,” Burney said. “… It was good to open the eyes of people who aren’t in the profession.”

She said there are a lot of other factors of teachers leaving the profession, such as stress, lack of free time and the number of meetings.

Steve Lee taught in public schools for 14 years and is currently an advocate for the New Hanover County NAACP Parents’ Council, empowering parents to take a proactive role in their children’s education.

“What I took away from it is, work hard, pay is low and the low pay is indicative of a lack of respect and that these combinations of those three things is what drives good teachers out of teaching,” Lee said. “I like the film, but I think that’s kind of a superficial analysis. I would say that the lack of respect is both internal and external.”

He said the lack of internal respect for teachers from school administrators and central office personnel is one thing that is not talked about much. 

“Respect starts at home, and for those of you who are candidates this is a place for me that is worthy of investigation and understanding of how the culture of schools themselves tends to disrespect the very people who are doing the job,” Lee said.

In addition to several educators and former educators, New Hanover County Board of Education candidates Emma Saunders and Tom Gale were among the 74 attendees.

Moral Movies is a collaboration of the North Carolina NAACP, Working Films and other organizations to educate and engage people about key issues in the state.

The films are screening in seven cities across North Carolina, including Greensboro, Greenville, Asheville, Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte.

The statistics in this story are from the documentary.

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