Teachers play an important role in society. Every day, they come to class to educate a boisterous group of students on a variety of topics. While a bachelor’s degree in the subject they teach is an academic requirement, a successful teacher needs to master discipline, develop trust, and determine the best methods to engage the class. Seeing how difficult it is to become a full-fledged teacher, many don’t stay in the profession.
That’s what Hanan Harchol (Dov Tiefenbach) contemplates during the first year of teaching film at a New York City high school designed to guide students into an industry-based career in the arts. Written and directed by the actual Hanan Harchol, based on his life, About a Teacher is a deeply personal drama about the challenges of teaching from the perspective of a new inner-city teacher.
Having obtained a Master’s degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Hanan Harchol (Dov Tiefenbach) is brimming with confidence. But, Hanan only finds employment as a guitarist at a restaurant. However, monetary gain sways Hanan in a new direction: teaching. Hanan reassures himself that even though he’s becoming a teacher, he’ll still create his art in his free time. Little does he know, being a teacher is incredibly stressful and demanding, and free time is scarce.
“…Hanan ventures from class to class…not realizing that there isn’t one right way to teach.”
As expected, the first few months of teaching are disastrous. Somebody doesn’t just go into teaching fully prepared. At the same time, the school board expects first-year teachers to meet quixotic expectations. For Hanan, these unfair objectives are made clear throughout his first year. Unable to engage the class, let alone control them, immediately gets Hanan in hot water.
Hanan attracts unfavorable scrutiny from Ms. Murry (Leslie Hendrix), the one who checks on all faculty members. The class refuses to listen or stay in their seats. Uncertain about what teaching technique to exercise, Hanan ventures from class to class, teacher to teacher, not realizing that there isn’t one right way to teach. Every teacher has a preferred method. It’s up to Hanan to figure that out, all the while dealing with the starry-eyed goals put in place by the school board.
Writer-director Harchol vivifies the difficulty and disorder of that first year with such disorienting anxiety. The cacophony of rowdy teens in a compacted classroom is uneasy enough to pique the audience as much as it does Hanan. No wonder teachers end up quitting; the paucity of respect is staggering. He finds that he is rather ill-equipped teaching at a school that educates students who have gang affiliations and unreachable parents. He’s blissfully unaware of what his students are going through. Thankfully, all of that changes.
When the film shifts to the next school year, Hanan is still attempting new ways to keep the class invested. He decides to really talk and listen to his students. In return, Hanan learns to set aside his prejudged notions of his students, and he’s able to experience their inner creativity and courage.
"…a deeply personal drama about the challenges of teaching from the perspective of a new inner-city teacher."