TEACH Documentary: What Does it Take to be a Great Teacher Today?

Teach Documentary

Thanks to Participant Media for sponsoring this post and for the opportunity to acknowledge the importance of teachers in our children’s lives.


What does it take to be a great teacherWhat Does It Take to Be A Great Teacher?

Can you think of a teacher that inspired you to find a discipline that spoke to your soul, work harder, read more carefully, play well with others, or become your most authentic self?

I talked about one of these teachers the other day, and three lessons that I learned from him on how to be a GREAT teacher. With the charge to inspire children to be their best selves, teachers have one of the most rewarding professions in the world. But of course, teaching isn’t an easy profession.

Although most teachers are passionate about what they do and love their work, they’re also notoriously underpaid for the amount of work they do in relation to the importance of their job: caring for our children’s futures.

How Much are Teachers Worth to You?

There’s a huge discrepancy between how much teachers are worth versus how much they’re actually paid.

I like to think of it this way: If I were to pay a babysitter to watch my child during school hours, it would cost me about $80/day ($20/hour for four hours of Kindergarten…I live in Silicon Valley and this really is the going rate!). Now multiply that by 175 days of school (California state law) and you have $14,000. Multiply that by 22 children and you have $308,000/year. Once a child leaves Kindergarten and is in school for six hours/day, the amount rises dramatically to $462,000!!

Do teachers make anywhere near this salary? Not a chance.

What? This is a huge exaggeration.

Okay, okay, I realize that many factors aren’t taken into account here such as the cost of school resources, school overhead, administrative salaries, technology, and extracurricular activities.

The point, however, isn’t to analyze the cost of running a school but to show how much a teacher is worth to us parents, how valuable our teachers are to our communities, and how little teachers get paid in relation to what they’re worth. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the highest paid teacher, with a doctorate degree,who also happens to put in the most hours (far more than the 175 days/year) earns around $100,000/year.

The point is this: Teachers are worth a lot to us. They help our children grow into well-rounded individuals, they show our children how to mitigate social situations in our absence, and they have years of training and expertise that qualify them to help our children reach their fullest intellectual potential.

Teach Documentary

What Does It Take to Be A Great Teacher Today?

Participant Media, makers of award-winning films such as An Inconvenient Truth, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Cove, and Fast Food Nation, bring us a new film THIS WEEK called TEACH.

TEACH, Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim’s third documentary film about education in America, airing on CBS on Sept 6 and Pivot on Sept 14, asks the question: What Does It Take to Be A Great Teacher Today?

It is important and timely to look at the profession of teaching in an honest and practical way because it is estimated that within the next ten years, 65% of America’s teachers will retire.

What YOU can do:

Watch the trailer, put TEACH on your calendar (September 6th at 8:00 pm ET/PT), and forward this post to anyone you think will benefit from watching this film.

Watch the trailer for TEACH here:

Three Little-known Secrets to Great Teaching

Learning about Shakespeare with Rafe Esquith

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  ~ Henry Brooks Adams

Have you ever had one of those teachers whose inspiration never left you? Someone who lit a fire in you that never died. A teacher whose influence and ideas are carried with you to this day?

flute playing with rafe esquith

I feel lucky to say that I’ve had one of these teachers.

Rafe Esquith taught fifth grade at my school and I was lucky enough to participate in his after school Shakespeare program. But teachers come in all forms just as children do. Based solely on my elementary school memories of Mr. Esquith, I bring you Three Little Known Secrets to Great Teaching. 

3 little known secrets to great teaching

#1 Secret to Great Teaching: Teach What You’re Passionate About

Rafe was (and still is) passionate about Shakespeare. He spent endless hours of his personal time teaching eleven-year-olds how to unpack meaning from plays like Richard III, MacBeth, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Each year we put on a full unabridged Shakespeare play complete with costumes, rock ‘n’ roll musical accompaniment, and sets. There were so many children in the program that he double cast every role and we held two separate performances so that each child could perform. Before we ever stepped foot on the stage, we read the play numerous times, laughed over Shakespeare’s play on words, and learned about some of the words that he invented (did you know that the word Moonbeam was first introduced in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?).

What made Mr.Esquith shine so brightly in my eyes is that he walked the talk. He didn’t say, “Shakespeare is important. Read these ten pages and we’ll have a quiz on it tomorrow.” Rather he loved everything about Shakespeare and his enthusiasm for the topic was contagious. There was not one child in Rafe’s Shakespeare program who didn’t aspire to love Shakespeare as much as Rafe did.

Many years later when I was studying at UCLA, I enrolled in a Shakespeare class. Half of the plays we read in that course were plays we had covered in Rafe’s afterschool program, and I remember breezing through the text like you might nostalgically look at Good Night Moon. The meaning and the stories stuck with me after all those years.

Lesson: Teach what you’re passionate about and your enthusiasm will spread.

rafe esquith shakespeare

Secret #2: Look for the Gift in Every Child

Not every child is the same, and each child carries unique strengths.

After spending time getting to know all of us, Rafe assigned roles. I was a pretty good flute player, so he found a place for me as a musician. My friend Rachel carried herself eloquently and was such a strong actor — she took a lead role. Some of the children were quieter than others (I was one of these children), and he cast them in ensemble roles. Rafe genuinely cared about his students and saw that everyone participated in a way that made sense for them.

Lesson: Pay attention to the children who are not the typical shining stars and find something wonderful in them. Figure out what makes them tick, and celebrate this. Children are capable of so much if you just give them the chance.

Learning about Shakespeare with Rafe Esquith

Secret #3: Be Unconventional

I’ve been watching Rafe’s career from the sidelines, and I know that he follows district guidelines in order to deliver the curriculum that all Los Angeles public school teachers are supposed to provide for their children. What sets Rafe apart from the teacher who solely follows the rules is that he’s not afraid to forge his own path. He arrives at school early, he stays late, he makes a point to accompany each unabridged Shakespearean play with rock ‘n’ roll music, and he raises money to take his students all over the world to apply their classroom learning to the real world.

Lesson: Look at your curriculum and find fun and non-traditional ways to bring it to life. 

More about Rafe Esquith

When I first met Mr. Esquith, he was just at the beginning of his career and I simply knew him as an amazing teacher.  He’s since gone on to write numerous books and receive teaching honors such as the Disney National Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, Oprah Winfrey’s $100,000 “Use Your Life Award”, Parents Magazine’s “As You Grow Award”, National Medal of Arts, and Esquith was made an honoraryMember of the Order of the British Empire. You can read more about his program The Hobart Shakespeareans here. 

rafe esquith books

Books by Rafe Esquith

Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: “No Retreat, No Surrender!”, Work Hard. Be Nice. (New York Times Bestseller), Teach Like Your Hair’s On FireThere Are No Shortcuts

A Question For You…

You’ve heard my three secrets to great teaching. Please share more secrets to great teaching!


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