THE SPECIAL "Teach"
WHEN|WHERE Friday night at 8 on CBS/2
WHAT IT'S ABOUT "The money is not great and sometimes it feels impossible ... so why do they do it?" asks Queen Latifah, host of this two-hour documentary on teachers. Or, specifically, four of them: Matt Johnson, a fourth-grade teacher at McGlone Elementary in Denver; Shelby Harris, a seventh-grade math teacher at Kuna Middle School in Kuna, Idaho; Joel Laguna, a 10th-grade AP world history teacher at Garfield High in Los Angeles, and Lindsay Chinn, a ninth-grade algebra teacher at MLK Early College in Denver. The special follows these four through their school year, as they wrestle with new curriculum aids, struggling students and their own sense of accomplishment -- or failure. Plus, it ends with an answer to why they do this difficult job.
MY SAY Do not be misled by the somewhat mundane title ("Teach," OK, sort of ho-hum) or make the assumption that CBS is burning off this two-hour summer documentary before the real fun begins next week. Neither mundane nor a burn-off, "Teach" is terrific -- a nicely produced and unexpectedly moving portrait of one of the most important professions known to humankind. To be sure, the producer and production company here are no slouches -- veteran director Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth," "Waiting for Superman"), and Participant Media, which is behind many big films, most recently "Lincoln" -- so a certain degree of proficiency should be expected. The surprise, however, is the degree of thought and emotion that went into this, too. Clearly, "Teach" gets it: the hassles, neglectful parents, newfangled teaching aids that need to be mastered on the fly, and that all-pervasive sense among teachers that they themselves are being graded as much as the kids. When the long day, and school year, is done, what's left is the distillate that makes this all worthwhile -- love, for the job and especially for the kids.
"Teach" may be loosely designed as a tribute to the profession, but if it converts just one viewer out there -- say, a kid wondering about what he or she wants to do with his or her life -- then it's a tribute to the power of TV, too.
BOTTOM LINE "Teach" is terrific.