Only a Teacher - classroom
Only A Teacher
Professional Development
Episode One
Episode Two
Episode Three

These suggestions for how teachers and community groups might use "Only A Teacher" contain thumbnail descriptions of each episode, five major themes that appear in each episode and two sample programs of discussion and questions for each episode. Some are more hands-on and practical, some are more philosophical.

To find sections on the film, cue up to the funder credits at the beginning of the show, and reset the counter to 00:00:00.

Episode One: Themes and Possible Discussion Points

  • Teachers' Fundamental Work: Motivating Students In and Beyond the Classroom
    (Teachers as academic mentors, social workers, and inspiration -- these themes are dealt with throughout the program)

  • Philosophical Underpinnings of the Common School: Democracy and Schooling
    (Schools as vehicles of social expectations for a democratic society)
    4:45. Narration cue: In the 1830s, Horace Mann ignited the Common School Revolution in Massachusetts...

  • Saving Souls: The Missionary Impulse in Teaching
    (Teachers and the mission of "uplift;" teachers as moral leaders)
    25:50. Visual cue: Title over cannon -- Saving Souls

  • Missionary Mind and Fighting Spirit: African Americans and Teaching
    (History of teachers as community leaders, missionaries, role models; role of black teachers today)
    33:55. Visual cue: Title over black and white footage -- A Missionary Mind and a Fighting Spirit

  • Assimilating the Alien: Attitudes Towards and Strategies for Non-Native Students
    (From the 19th-century credo of forced assimilation to multiculturalism today)
    39:22. Visual cue: Title over black and white footage -- Assimilating the Alien

    Teachers' Fundamental Work: Motivating Students In and Beyond the Classroom
    Look at the three sections of the film devoted to Dean Eastman and his students: :17 -- beginning of show; 22:30 -- Title: Teaching -- It's Not all Academic; 51:14 -- graduation scene.

    Dean Eastman talks about several kids' lack of previous achievement; Kim calls herself a slacker; Jon talks about how little he does. How does Dean engage kids like this? Dean is well aware of the complications of his students' lives outside of school. How responsible is a teacher for students' welfare outside the classroom?

    Discuss some of Dean's points in the opening scene of the program:

    1. :38. "Meaning, relevance, activity."

      Are these your criteria for teaching?

    2. 1:26. "A little backbone in their wishbone."

      How does a teacher combine discipline and structure with inspiration for kids who have limited academic skills or little interest?

    3. 1:40. "Expect equals respect."

      How can high expectations lead to accomplishment?

    4. 3:09. "Creativity expressed through positive channels."

      How can you plug into the creativity of kids who have never seen school as a creative enterprise?

    5. In the middle of the film at 23:30, Dean says, "When you see students that have problems, just out of human compassion you want to do your best to help."

      To what degree can or should teachers be social workers?

    6. Think about a student like Kim or Jon whom you've had. What has characterized your interaction? How would you define your limits and that kid's limits in your partnership? Which do you have control over? What has worked best with that student? Devise an assignment in your subject that would play on that kid's strengths and bring out his or her best potential for engagement and learning.

    The Common School: Democracy and Schooling
    Look at the sections devoted to the origins of the Common School.

    This section looks at the philosophical and practical underpinnings of public schools at the time of their origins. What implications does that history have for us today? Discuss:
    1. 4:45. Narration cue: In the 1830s, Horace Mann ignited the Common School Revolution in Massachusetts...

      Horace Mann believed schools must be open to everyone, for the benefit of every individual and society. How do we see this democratic impulse in schools today? What efforts does your school make to ensure that it serves everyone equally? How does this play out in your own classroom?

    2. 6:00. Rosetta Cohen, Professor of Education: "The common school reformers genuinely believed that schools could perfect society, could eradicate poverty, could do away with class divisions."

      Can we expect our schools to accomplish these goals? In what ways do teachers work towards these goals? How does this effort play out in your own school? How can the community help teachers achieve these goals?

    3. 17:30. Ted Sizer, Chair, Coalition of Essential Schools: "Teaching is about heads and hearts...Kids have to learn to be part of a community."

      This is an idea that John Dewey also emphasized. What is the teacher's role in making this happen? What do you do to ensure that your students are learning how to be productive members of a community, and even productive and responsible citizens?

    4. 15:44. David Tyack, Historian of Education: "Teaching is more an identity than a profession."

      This statement suggests a kind of missionary impulse at the heart of teaching. What are the implications of this statement for society's expectations for teachers -- and their expectations for themselves?

    5. Realities -- then and today. What are your goals for each student in your class? Think about your own school and your role in your classroom, with the groups you teach and with individual students. Describe a situation in which you felt you did fulfill the role Mann envisioned for teachers and schools. Talk about how teachers can and do try to "perfect society." Describe how kids' experiences in the community of the classroom - your classroom -- translate into their later roles as members of larger communities and as citizens.

  • About the Series | Timeline | Pioneers | Closeup | Show & Tell | Teachers Today
    Screensaver | Online Resources | Professional Development
    Purchase Video | Feedback | Credits

    teacher and student