Filmmaker Statement from Dave Eggers

by Dave Eggers, Producer of American Teacher
from the American Teacher screening kit

My mom was a teacher, and a lot of my good friends from high school and college became teachers. One of my best friends was a teacher in San Francisco when we were both in our twenties and living in the city. She lived down the street from me, and we would see each other often, and she would talk about her job, her students, her school. She was easily the most passionate and accomplished and adult among all of us twenty-somethings. I was happy for her, and for the students who had her as a teacher.  
But then, after about four years teaching, she had to quit. She couldn’t afford it. She had loans, she had expenses. She was living with a roommate in a small apartment, couldn’t afford her own place, couldn’t afford a car, couldn’t afford most of the things she needed. So she quit to sell educational software, and eventually went into real estate.  
So that was a lesson to me. Great teachers, born teachers, were leaving the profession because of the salaries and conditions. And over the years, through our 826 National centers, I’ve met dozens of other young teachers who were inspiring, gifted, and who left the profession. In most cases, it wasn’t just about the money. But money drives a lot of co-factors, like prestige, autonomy, and respect.  
So Nínive Calegari, Daniel Moulthrop and I put together the book Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America’s Teachers, allowing the teachers to tell their stories, what they love about their job and what makes their job unnecessarily difficult. 
After the book was published, a documentary seemed like a natural extension of the story. We could reach new audiences and update the stories of some of the teachers profiled in the book.  
The hope for the film now is to share the stories of actual teachers: what the job is really all about, how hard it is, and how many of the things we assume we know about the profession aren’t quite right. We’re in an unprecedented age of scrutiny for teachers, and much of the debate is shrill and misinformed. We’re hoping the movie presents a clear, sober picture of the lives of teachers, and can hint at a roadmap for improving conditions and retention.