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A Movie that Matters

I always love the holiday season. You get to go to lighthearted movies like Tower Heist or Happy Feet Two. You also get a chance to see dramas like J. Edgar, a sure bet for an Oscar. This holiday season, I want to recommend that you consider another potential Academy Award winner, this one in the documentary category.

So get your popcorn, super size Diet Coke, and possibly some Raisinettes, and go see a new documentary called Mitchell 20. This is a movie that exposes the passion and commitment that teachers have for their students and their profession. It is raw and real as it relates to the world of the American teacher today. It is the antithesis of Waiting for Superman.

Mitchell Elementary School is in the Isaac School District in the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area. It is the typical high poverty school with all the challenges associated with English language learners (ELL), immigrant fears, parental support, and budget woes. On any given day, the staff is dealing with the latest external issue that impacts their job of student achievement. But in the words of Poet Maya Angelou, "...and still they rise."

The protagonist of this movie is Daniela Robles, a National Board Certified Teacher. Daniela led her colleagues in one of the most rigorous professional development activities. She recruited 19 of her colleagues to participate in either the full certification process or the Take One! program of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Fortunately, these teachers had a principal who gave full support and was creative in finding money to underwrite the costs despite limited resources.

What they did not have was a supportive superintendent. He is the movie's antagonist who believed he had to dismantle the team at Mitchell in order to replicate it in other schools. His actions provide another classic example of the lack of understanding by too many leaders about how to create school change. Real transformation must be organic and culture-driven and led by those who understand the students and the community. No one can inspire by demoralizing a school community.

Watching these teachers take on the challenging process of the best professional development in the world by building a learning community, integrating this learning into quality teaching, and juggling all their personal demands was inspiring. Teaching is hard work, but it is also the most fulfilling work. Mitchell 20 gives a true picture of the life of a teacher and provides a deep insight into the obstacles that come their way every day.

Mitchell 20 is a story that needs to be seen by every politician who would cut funding for professional development. It needs to be seen by every reformer who believes that a smart, young, college graduate with no teaching preparation can meet the challenges that face our schools today. It needs to be seen by every parent to understand that a teacher deals with 30 children at a time rather than one or two. And it needs to be seen by every teacher who desires to be in a school where collaboration matters, learning is lifelong, and students have unconditional support and love.

Let me know what you think of the movie. If it does not come to your community, have your local education association or PTA sponsor a showing. Thank the National Education Association led by Dennis Van Roekel and the Arizona K-12 Center led by Kathy Wiebeke, the first National Board Certified Teacher in Arizona, for making this film possible.

Your support of great documentaries that tell the truth about teachers assures that more will be made.

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