All Documentary Films

Only a Teacher

Only a Teacher looks at the evolution of the teaching profession and the tensions challenges and triumphs that teachers face in their classrooms

Director/Producer: Claudia Levin
Producer: Meg Pinto
Production Company
Smith College Project on Women and Social Change
Release Date
January 1, 1992

The documentary series Only A Teacher explores the diverse faces and many roles of the American teacher from the 1830s to the present. In three one-hour episodes, Only A Teacher presents historical background about the profession and how it developed, while giving voice to contemporary teachers and their concerns. The series plays out as a dialogue between past and present, as teachers from different eras describe their dreams and setbacks, challenges and achievements. Today, teachers confront a range of challenges. But teachers have always faced confounding expectations and formidable obstacles to their work. They are public servants with personal missions, who know their work will always be influenced by forces beyond the classroom. Only A Teacher illustrates how the teaching profession has been influenced by those forces and shaped by a long line of remarkable teachers. In-depth interviews with current teachers and eminent scholars form the foundation of the series. For the historical segments, diaries and letters reveal what teachers over the past 170 years have had to say about their work. To explore popular perceptions of teachers, the series glances at Hollywood movies and television comedies. Lily Tomlin and Robin Williams appear for a lighter look at teaching. Longtime teacher and author Frank McCourt gives moving and humorous testimony to teaching's power. Most importantly, throughout the series, we see the teachers themselves, often in their classrooms, working with their students. America's attitude towards its teachers is frequently ambivalent. We admire them and at the same time lament that they don't do more. We limit their resources, and then ask them to do the most important job in the world. At its heart, Only A Teacher always pursues the crucial questions: what does it mean to be only a teacher, to do what only a teacher can do?

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