Idaho Educator Featured In CBS Documentary "Teach"

Sep 5, 2013

Idaho teacher Shelby Harris is featured in a documentary by Academy Award winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim that premieres Friday on CBS.

"Teach" features four educators from around the country, each trying different strategies to teach and inspire their students.

Shelby Harris and her seventh graders are using Khan Academy, an online learning program.
Credit Don Holtz

Idaho's Shelby Harris teaches math to seventh graders at Kuna Middle School. We asked her what it was like to teach a semester with a classroom full of cameras.

A: After a while it was just what we did and they didn’t really even notice it. I think it’s just like anything else, you just get used to your environment and you adapt and we had a job to do and we just kept working.

Q: Do you think it impacted their learning?

A: Maybe positively, in that they had to perform a little bit. It seemed like when the cameras were here they wanted to please me and they wanted everything to look great. And so they may have done better because of it. I don’t know.

Q: How did you get selected to take part?

A: Idaho is participating in the Khan in Idaho project where Idaho is partnering with Albertson and Khan Academy to bring this software into the classroom. And there are 200 teachers, I believe, statewide who are going to be doing this.

And the producers heard about that project through Khan Academy and that landed them in Idaho. They went to a lot of districts, I’ve been told, trying to narrow it down. I went through the interview process and they said 'are you sure' and I said 'yeah.' I was really excited about getting the technology into the classroom and I thought if this is an opportunity to get something new into my classroom I’m all for it.

Q: How do you feel about being chosen as a representative of your entire profession?

A: I feel like I don’t belong with those other three. I watched them in the movie and they are so good. They had all four of us watching the movie together, the four teacher. And something that was universal in what we all said is that every teacher has that teacher that they aspire to be. And I have them, in this building, and I watch them every day and think ‘my gosh’ I wish I could be as good as you. And all four of us talked about how we all feel like that.

In one scene Harris sits alone on a chair in the school gym. Then a crowd of students run into the shot and mob her from behind. She says they had to shoot that multiple times. Most of what is in the film she says was captured naturally as it happened in the classroom.
Credit Don Holtz

Q: What was it like working with one of the most well-known documentary film makers in the country?

A: He was amazing. It always kind of came back to, 'well what do you think about this?' Even the night we saw the movie his question to us was did we get this right? Are you happy with the movie? Did we represent you well? Did we represent your kids well? And I thought that was amazing because this man really is a great director and could just say ‘this is my movie and it is what it is.’

Q: Did he get it right?

A: I think so. It just resonated so deeply with all of us. And we all left that room going 'everybody needs to see this movie.' Teachers need to see it so they know they’re not alone in the battles they go through every day. Because as teachers it’s really tough to admit that it’s hard. And I’m hoping for parents it shows them that we are here for your kids. And I don’t always feel that parents get that about us, that we’re on your side. And you want great things for your kids and we want those same great things for them. That’s why we show up every day and get tortured by them. Because we want them to have this great life and be successful. And I hope parents walk away from this movie feeling like they get that.

Q: One of Davis Guggenheim’s previous forays into public education, "Waiting For Superman" was critically acclaimed, but it was also slammed by some people as presenting a narrow and biased view of the education system. What would you say is the message of this documentary, "Teach"?

A: I think the message is that teaching is tough and it’s rewarding and it’s a daily challenge and a daily struggle. And that if you stay passionate and keep pursuing… it can be the most amazing thing. I walked away inspired to begin my year and to just take these kids and love them and take them as far as I possibly can. And I was in it and I still walked away with that feeling. So I think the message is, let’s get behind teachers and let’s support them and let’s get more into the field. And if you’re even considering doing this as an occupation you should because it’s a worthy job. And yeah some days it’s really really tough but it’s such an important profession to be in.

"Teach" premieres on CBS Friday at 7:00 p.m.

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