During his first year of teaching, Hanan Harchol tells his dad it’s like living in a war zone. “Yesterday one kid almost impaled another kid with a light stand.”
Based on his own first three years of teaching fimmaking at an inner-city New York high school, Harchol has produced a film that will resonate with most teachers’ first year (at least) experience.
Because Harchol was teaching a vocational arts class, a teaching certificate was waived. He sought out another teacher to learn behavior management. He was astounded by the success of her methods. “What school did you graduate from?” he asked. “Columbia Teachers’ College,” she responded. But then she added that she had been as helpless as he found himself now when she first started. How to manage a classroom had not been taught.
I KNOW THIS. I took education classes from 1973 to 2008 at 10 different universities (the last being Harvard) and taught for 45 years. Neither during student teaching nor in any of my preparatory classes was I instructed the primary thing that school administrators evaluated every teacher on – classroom management.
So, it is no surprise, that with no background in any kind of instructional game plan, Harchol is a lost soul on day one. His students barely recognize his presence as they busy themselves with their hair, YouTube, sleeping, eating, and provoking fights.
Harchol has created a movie that should be shown in every required entry-level education course. Then prospective teacher candidates should have opportunities to practice in the field at various grade levels with successful teachers. Administrators are right to expect classroom management expertise before everything else. If the teacher can’t control the classroom, how can learning ever take place?
What Harchol experienced echoes the nightmare teachers confront. As his film points out, “a 2019 report by the NYC comptroller’s Office the city struggles to retain its newest teachers. In fact, 41 percent of teachers hired in the 2012-13 school year left the system within five years.”
In “About a Teacher,” Harchol is portrayed by Woody Allen-like Dov Tiefenbach. This is master casting and perfect acting. Tiefenbach, so unsure of himself at the beginning, uses what evolves into humility and structure to harness his students. The ending will cause tears, but the film itself is a glorious testament to what really did happen in a New York high school.
Students came back to help Harchol, a classical guitarist, animator, filmmaker, and eventual beloved teacher, to make this excellent feature film, which is now available on Amazon Prime.
Executive Producer: Sara Bloom
Producer/Writer/Director: Hanan Harchol
Cast: Dov Tiefenbach, Tibor Feldman, Kate Eastman, Aurora Leonard and Leslie Hendrix, Joseph John Vega, Cedric Preval, and Sterling Morales
Cinematographer: Kai Dekassian
Editor: Grace Sandberg
Sound Mixer: Alan Kudan
Release: April 7, 2020
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