About the project

THE TEACHER SALARY PROJECT encompasses a feature-length documentary film, an interactive online resource, and a national outreach campaign that delves into the core of our educational crisis as seen through the eyes and experiences of our nation’s teachers. This project is based on the New York Times bestselling book Teachers Have It Easy by journalist and teacher Daniel Moulthrop, co-founder of the 826 National writing programs Nínive Calegari, and writer Dave Eggers. American Teacher is produced by Eggers and Calegari, produced and directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth, and narrated by Matt Damon.

Our educational system must change. Currently, 30 percent of American students drop out of school by age eighteen. Fewer than 30 percent of all eighth-grade students are proficient in grade-level reading and math. Most significantly, students from urban, financially disadvantaged backgrounds are at a greater risk for decreased cognitive development and ability, lower school attendance, and higher rates of grade failure and early drop-out. And though it is well documented that the most important school-based factor in students’ academic achievement and future success is the quality of their teachers, 46 percent of public school teachers leave the profession within the first five years of being in the classroom. A good teacher has the power to change the course of a life—yet because teachers in the United States have historically had an average annual salary lower than their peers with similar educational backgrounds, 62 percent of our nation’s teachers must have second jobs outside of the classroom-like tutoring, mowing lawns, selling stereos, or bartending—to be able to afford to teach.

Weaving interviews of policy experts and startling facts with the lives and careers of four teachers, our film, American Teacher, tells the collective story by and about those closest to the issues in our educational system—the 3.2 million teachers who spend every day in classrooms across the country. Through an interactive and evolving website and a feature-length documentary that brings together educational experts, student interviews, and a year of documenting the day-to-day lives and sacrifices of public school teachers, THE TEACHER SALARY PROJECT will bring an awareness to the real and imminent crisis in our educational system—how little we value our strongest, most committed, and most effective teachers, and the ripple effect this has on how our children learn and their potential for future success.

In keeping with the storytelling styles of both Dave Eggers (writer) and Vanessa Roth (director), American Teacher is a character-driven film that explores this urgent issue through humor, irony, and the energy of the teachers who fill the screen. Since 2008, our team has closely followed the stories of four teachers living and working in disparate urban and rural areas across the country. The film’s narrative balances the personal stories of each character with a mixture of interviews and animated facts and statistics by Stefan Nadelman, each highlighting the big sacrifices made by our nation’s teachers, and how these demanding costs force many of our greatest teachers out of the profession. The film is narrated by Matt Damon, who is passionate about education, and includes an original musical score by Thao Nguyen. American Teacher won the silver award in the documentary category of the 34th Annual Philadelphia International Film Festival.

Research has shown that the top-performing school systems in the world all share one consistent feature: top-performing teachers. In the next five years, over one million teachers will retire. By following four feature teachers as they reach different milestones in their careers, our film tells the deeper story of the teaching profession in America today, and what we can do to invest in it for tomorrow. It is our hope that American Teacher will engage, challenge, and inspire audiences to be part of an urgently needed progressive social movement, resulting in a real and lasting impact on the lives of our nation’s children.

Nínive Calegari – Producer

Nínive is a veteran teacher with almost ten years’ experience in the classroom, including experience in both charter schools and large comprehensive high schools. She is the cofounder and former executive director of 826 Valencia, and most recently served as the CEO of 826 National, a literacy nonprofit that galvanizes volunteers in eight cities to support teachers and help students improve their writing skills. She holds a Master’s Degree in Education in Teaching and Curriculum from the Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, and is a co-author of the New York Times bestselling book Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America’s Teachers.

Dave Eggers – Producer

Dave is the author of six books: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, You Shall Know Our Velocity!How We Are Hungry, Teachers Have It Easy, What Is the What, and Zeitoun. He is the founder and editor of McSweeney’s, a quarterly magazine and book-publishing company, and is co-founder of 826 Valencia. As a journalist, his work has appeared in the New Yorker, Esquire, and The Believer. In 2004 he co-taught a class at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, out of which grew the Voice of Witness series of books, designed to illuminate contemporary human crises through oral history.

Vanessa Roth – Producer/Director

An Academy Award and duPont-Columbia Award–winning filmmaker, Vanessa has been making pivotal social-issue documentaries for more than a decade. Some of her award-winning films include Taken In: The Lives of America’s Foster Children, Close to Home, Aging Out, Schools of the 21st Century, The Third Monday in October, 9/11’s Toxic Dust, Freeheld, and No Tomorrow. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work and a minor in Family Law from Columbia University. Before making films, Ms. Roth worked as a child advocate in New York’s Family Court, the New York school system, and the Los Angeles Rape Treatment Center. Vanessa is currently in production on a new film called The Untouchables.

Brian McGinn – Co-Director & Editor
Brian is a director and editor. Before co-directing and editing American Teacher, he edited and produced the documentary The Frozen City, which was broadcast on ESPN and CurrenTV, and screened at the AFI, Cleveland, and Florida Film Festivals in 2008. He is currently in post-production on a film about the man with the most Guinness Records ever for the Danish Film Institute and Channel 4. His online comedy has tallied over two million views, and been featured on Gawker, Wired, Adult Swim, MySpace, FunnyOrDie and Wholphin. McGinn graduated from Duke University with a degree in English in 2007.

Emily Davis – Associate Producer
Emily is a passionate follower of education, which inspires and informs her work with innovative national and local educational organizations. In addition to working in the classroom, she has worked in development, programming, and communications with the literacy non-profits WriteBoston and 826 Valencia, and the charter school network Achievement First. Emily is a graduate of Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Western Society & Culture and Political Science.

Devin Triplett – Development and Outreach Associate
After graduating from California State University, Chico with degrees in Music and Religious Studies, Devin has spent time giving guitar lessons, land surveying, bartending, as well as teaching English in Querétaro, México. Surrounded by many friends and family members who are teachers, he is passionate about being involved within education reform and joined the The Teacher Salary Project after interning with 826 Valencia and National. He currently lives in San Francisco.

John Knight – Development and Outreach Associate
Formerly the administrative assistant for the Voice of Witness education program, John strives to rethink education possibilities and promote reform. In addition to interning at 826 Valencia, he has worked as a research assistant for McSweeney’s Publishing and is currently the editor of the iPad magazine, Once. He is a graduate of Colorado College with a bachelors degree in English and philosophy.

Lauren Hall – Development and Outreach Associate
Lauren Hall was formerly the Development Director for 826 Valencia and National, a network of nonprofits that assist young people with their expository and creative writing skills. Lauren has coordinated publishing projects and writing workshops for San Francisco youth through her work at 826, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Bay Area Girls Rock Camp. In 2005 she received the Hendrix Lily Care Award for her dedication to social justice issues throughout college and beyond. She is the editor of I Live Real Close to Where You Used to Live, a collection of students’ letters to First Lady Michelle Obama.  

Erik Benner
Erik Benner has been teaching Texas history for fifteen years in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Benner, now forty years old, grew up in the small Texas town of Haslet, just a few miles north of Fort Worth. He graduated from the University of North Texas in 1996. He is the proud father of two beautiful daughters, Victoria, age eighteen and Addison, age five. Benner and his family currently live in Keller, Texas.

Jonathan Dearman
Jonathan Dearman is a lifelong San Francisco resident who has worked in real estate and education for the past twenty years. As a lifelong learner and educator, Jonathan has worked on education non-profits and school boards while running his family-owned real estate business since leaving the teaching profession in 2002. Jonathan is now looking to combine two of his passions, education and music, in a community project for young people in his neighborhood.

Jamie Fidler
Jamie Fidler has been teaching for eleven years. She went to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for both her undergraduate and graduate degrees. When Jamie isn’t in the classroom or working at her second or sometimes third job, she is working to fight against teacher layoffs and budget cuts to public schools. Jamie lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband David and her daughter Charlotte.

Rhena Jasey
Rhena Jasey taught for six years in the South Orange/Maplewood School District where she grew up, attending the public schools and graduating from the local public high school there. She earned her BA from Harvard University and holds an MA in Elementary and Early Childhood Education and an MEd in Educational Leadership, with a concentration in Public School Leadership, both from Columbia University. Rhena pursues her interest in public education policy issues by participating in programs and panels that address issues of urban education and currently teaches at the Equity Project Charter School (T.E.P.) serving Washington Heights in New York City.

Jean-Claude Calegari – Executive Board
Mr. Calegari works in business development at Amyris Biotechnologies, a renewable-fuels company. Previously, he was the Director of Business Development for the SchoolHouse division of LeapFrog Toys, where he oversaw the integration of curricula into technology products for use in classrooms. Mr. Calegari holds an MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and a B.A. from Harvard University. He is also a CPA.

Louise Grotenhuis – Executive Board
After teaching history, theater and humanities in middle and high school classrooms, Dr. Grotenhuis served as a Diversity consultant for non-profit organizations and Independent and public schools for ten years in the San Francisco Bay Area. She now directs the Children’s Village Foundation for Literate Youth (FLY) program at the Polo Grounds in Harlem and teaches assessment and support strategies at Bronx Community College.

Meleana Leaverton – Executive Board/Business Affairs
Ms. Leaverton is Corporate Counsel at American Assets Trust, Inc., a publicly traded real estate investment trust. Prior to working at American Assets, she practiced corporate law for 9 years in the San Francisco office of the law firm Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal LLP. She has represented a number of local non-profit corporations, including 826 Valencia, the Oakland charter school Oasis High School, the Chez Panisse Foundation, Wildlife Rescue, Inc. (which merged into the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA), and the Latino Community Foundation. She is the recipient of Sonnenschein’s 2007 Rothschild Pro Bono Award. She has a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh, and earned her law degree from Boalt Hall.

Sherie L’Heureux – Executive Board
Ms. L’Heureux works as a Financial Analyst for an environmental engineering company headquartered in San Francisco with 18 years of experience. She has held various positions there including Manager of Support Services, Project Controller, Financial Coordinator for multi-million dollar environmental construction jobs and Training Coordinator for the accounting & marketing systems. She was a preschool teacher shortly after receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology. Sherie also founded her own business as a Professional Organizer for homes and businesses. She lives in Santa Cruz with her husband and two children.

Dorothy Moulthrop – Executive Board
Ms. Moulthrop has over ten years of experience as a classroom teacher and curricular leader. She began her career in public education in the English Language Arts department at San Lorenzo High School, focusing on English-language learners and secondary-level literacy development. She did her teacher training at the UC Berkeley, and is currently working on a Master’s Degree in Education at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Comparative Literature and Italian from Northwestern University. She currently teaches in the English department at Shaker Heights High School, near Cleveland, Ohio.

Nicole Wolfgram – Executive Board
As Senior Director of Sales for MTV Network Digital Entertainment Group, Ms. Wolfgram oversees all west coast sales activities for Comedy Central Digital and Spike Digital Entertainment. Prior to joining MTV Networks, Nicole enjoyed a sales career at Sony Pictures Classics where she worked on and released such award-winning films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonTalk To HerPollockWinged Migration and The Fog of War.

Jonathan Dearman – Advisory Board

Mr. Dearman is the Executive Vice President responsible for sales and marketing of HSM, Inc. Prior to becoming the Lead Real Estate Consultant at HSM, Mr. Dearman worked as a high school teacher and department coach for Leadership High School in San Francisco. While there, he developed the leadership curriculum for the four-year program in the school, managed and supervised other teachers in the department, and worked with the administration on hiring and coordinating with outside agencies. He earned his Master’s Degree and teaching credentials from the University of San Francisco.

Bill Ferriter – Advisory Board

Mr. Ferriter teaches sixth grade science and social studies in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was named a North Carolina Regional Teacher of the Year in 2005–06. Mr. Ferriter writes a regular column for Teachers Teaching Teachers, which is published by the National Staff Development Council. He has also been published by leading educational journals ranging from Educational Leadership to the Journal for Staff Development, and keeps a blog about the teaching life, “The Tempered Radical,” at the Teacher Leaders Network web site. He is a Senior Fellow in the Teacher Leaders Network and has served as a Teacher in Residence at the Center for Teaching Quality in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, working to raise the voice of practitioners into conversations about teacher working conditions and alternative compensation models for educators.

Yosh Han – Advisory Board
Ms. Han is the creator and perfumer of YOSH Olfactory Sense, a boutique fragrance company specializing in niche perfumes and aromatic art. Commissions include projects for SF Opera, SFJAZZ, the Bureau of Urban Secrets, and the 826LA Time Travel Mart. Her work has been featured in Vanity FairTown & CountryVogue, and CBS MarketWatch. Prior to starting her own business, she was the original purveyor of Pirate Supplies and the Events Producer at 826 Valencia. Production events included the wildly successful First Annual Thumbwrestling Tournament, First Annual Icelandic Film Festival, Beard Trimmings, and Beef Jerky Tastings.

Wendy Hanamura – Advisory Board
Ms. Hanamura has been telling stories on video for 25 years. Now as a television executive, she helps bring global documentaries, feature films, world music and international news stories to viewers in America through Link TV, a non-profit television network that reaches 33 million American homes, and www.linktv.org. Hanamura is also in charge of Link TV’s ViewChange.org, a multimedia website funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that shares powerful videos about real people and progress in global development. She began her career at Time Magazine, has been a Tokyo-based correspondent on the Discovery Channel and NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), a reporter for CBS’s San Francisco station, KPIX-TV, and produced series for PBS. Her documentaries have been awarded three Emmy Awards, Gold Medal-Chicago Film Festival, Cine Golden Eagle and the Chris Award for the best Social Issues Documentary.

Verna Kuo – Advisory Board
Ms. Kuo is the Director of Real Estate and Natural Resources Investments at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. She is responsible for fund selection and relationship management across the Foundation’s global real estate and natural resources portfolio. Prior to joining the Foundation in 2006, she spent six years at the Stanford Management Company where she invested and managed the University endowment’s real estate and natural resources portfolio. Prior to Stanford Management, Ms. Kuo held a senior position on the California Clinton/Gore campaign and was a national program officer for the Corporation for National Service, helping to start the national AmeriCorps Program. She has a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Stanford University and a master’s degree in business administration from Stanford University.

Sabrina Laine – Advisory Board
Dr. Laine is chief program officer for educator quality at Learning Point Associates. She manages the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality funded by the U.S. Department of Education and is a principal investigator for the Center for Educator Compensation Reform. Dr. Laine has a diverse background in educational policy research and has spearheaded efforts to contribute to policy research and resource development related to every aspect of managing and supporting educator talent including recruitment, compensation, evaluation, distribution and professional development. She has worked for the last several years to ensure that policies and programs are in place that enable all children to have access to highly qualified teachers and leaders. Dr. Laine earned her doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from Indiana University.

Sally Lovett – Advisory Board
As a community leader and fundraiser, Ms. Lovett has held jobs in a broad spectrum of arenas. Her San Francisco board affiliations include the Institute for Health and Healing Advisory Council, California Pacific Medical Center, International Museum of Women, San Francisco General Hospital Foundation Advisory Board and Trauma Recovery Center (where she co-conducted therapy for 12 years), President at the Fort Mason Foundation, President of the Museum of Craft and Folk Art, and Vice President of University High School. Before moving to San Francisco, Sally had a similar career in the arts, Montessori education, and mental health communities of Cincinnati, Ohio. An early women’s advocate, she founded “Women Into Tomorrow,” created and produced the “Pioneers for Century III” conference in conjunction with the University of Cincinnati Department of Women’s Studies, and co-chaired Ohio’s International Women’s Year. Sally is the founder of Lovett Women’s Centers (1993) serving three Russian cities on the Kamchatka Peninsula and in the Russian Far East. Sally has three sons and was educated at the Spence School, Vassar College and Columbia University.

Taylor Mali – Advisory Board
Mr. Mali is the most well-known poets to have emerged from the poetry slam movement and one of the few people in the world to have no job than that of “poet.” Articulate, accessible, passionate, and downright funny, Mali studied drama in Oxford with members of the Royal Shakespeare Company and puts those skills of presentation to work in all his performances. He was one of the original poets to appear on the HBO series Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry and was the “Armani-clad villain” of Paul Devlin’s 1997 documentary film SlamNation. Mali is vocal advocate of teachers and the nobility of teaching, having spent nine years in the classroom teaching everything from English and history to math and S.A.T. test preparation. He has performed and lectured for teachers all over the world and has a goal of creating one thousand new teachers through “poetry, persuasion, and perseverance.”

Daniel Moulthrop – Advisory Board
Mr. Moulthrop is an author and public broadcasting host based in Cleveland, Ohio. He began hosting WCPN’s The Sound of Ideas® in 2006, after working as a reporter, host, and producer for Cleveland’s public radio station. He began his work as a journalist at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before turning to the world of news, he taught English at San Lorenzo High School and a variety of subjects at the San Francisco County Jail. Mr. Moulthrop has received many accolades for his work, including “Best in Show for Public Affairs Programs,” “Best Local News Refresher,” and one of Cleveland’s “Most Interesting People.”

Debra Netkin – Advisory Board
Ms. Netkin has worked for the San Francisco Unified School District since 1998, and has been teaching at Lawton Alternative School since 2001. She received the San Francisco Mayor’s Teacher of the Month Award in 2009, and was also awarded 826 Valencia’s Teacher of the Month Award in 2005. Debra has worked on a teacher advisory board to the California Academy of Sciences and has also worked at the 826 Valencia Writers’ Workshop, instructing the summer staff on how to teach writing to children. Much of her work focuses on educating children on environmental issues, and she is currently developing an educational environmental TV show. She places high emphasis on the integration of the arts into all all areas of learning. She has also written and performed solo theatre pieces under the direction of David Ford and W. Kamau Bell. Outside of school, she enjoys painting, playing guitar, writing, hiking, and doing yoga.

Gregory Peters – Advisory Board
Mr. Peters is school reform leader with a longstanding history working within both local and national efforts. As Principal of San Francisco’s Leadership High School, Gregory and his teachers effectively created a National Demonstration and Mentor School that made progress in closing the racial achievement gap. Building from his successful experiences and results, Gregory now leads The San Francisco Coalition of Essential Small Schools, which is committed “to interrupt and transform current and systemic educational inequities to ensure all students have access to personalized, equitable and high performing schools that believe and demonstrate each student can, should and will succeed.” Gregory’s instructional expertise and leadership in curriculum and school design; data based inquiry; and equity-centered professional development have resulted in a number recognitions including CESN’s “Commitment to Equity Award” and CANEC’s “Innovations in Excellence Award.” Gregory is candidate at California State University East Bay for his doctorate in Educational Leadership & Social Justice.

Ellen Gordon Reeves – Advisory Board

For the past fifteen years, Ms. Reeves has served as Education Editor for the not-for-profit New Press. She has taught in public and private schools in France and America at the elementary through graduate levels, teaches in the Columbia University Publishing Course, and does college counseling at the American School of Paris and the Lycée Internationale. She holds an EdM from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an MA in Writing and Teaching Writing from Northeastern University. She wrote Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?, and is finishing a cookbook with chef Yves Camdeborde in Paris, and a play about WWII survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein.

Guilan Sheykhzadeh – Advisory Board
Ms. Sheykhzadeh has been a San Francisco high school teacher for more than sixteen years, and has worked as a Department Head for over half that time. She holds degrees in English and Creative Writing, as well as a Master’s Degree in Education, and is also a published poet. In 2004, she was given the Excellence in Teaching Award by the University of California, San Diego. Guilan has collaborated with 826 Valencia on various projects, including the publication of EXACTLY, and received 826 Valencia’s Teacher of the Month Award. She has served as an Academic Decathlon coach, worked with the Bay Area Writing Project, and is currently a lead in helping schools incorporate the Restorative Practices Program into their system.

Tiffany Shlain – Advisory Board
Honored by Newsweek as one of the “Women Shaping the 21st Century,” Ms. Shlain is a filmmaker, founder of the Webby Awards, and co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. A sought-after speaker known for her visual presentations, Ms. Shlain lectures worldwide on filmmaking and the Internet’s influence on society. She founded the Webby Awards in 1996 and was creative director and CEO for nearly a decade, transforming it into a global organization honoring the best of the Internet, which occurs annually in NYC.

Sean Uyehara – Advisory Board
Mr. Uyehara is a programmer at the San Francisco Film Society. He inaugurated KinoTek, a programming thread dedicated to exhibiting cross-platform technologies and emergent media. Uyehara is also the establishing programmer of the San Francisco International Animation Festival and lead programmer of film and music, live events and multimedia performance at the San Francisco International Film Festival and SF360 Film + Club.

Sally Willcox – Advisory Board

Ms. Willcox is an agent in the Motion Picture Literary Department at Creative Artists Agency. She represents many of the world’s leading authors and writers, including Michael Chabon, Michael Cunningham, Jeff Eugenides, Dave Eggers, Steven Knight, Terry McMillan, William Nicholson, Zadie Smith, and Amy Tan. She graduated from Yale University with a degree in Political Science. Ms. Willcox is active in many community and philanthropic enterprises. She serves as President of the Board of 826LA, and also sits on the board of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Foundation.

The New York Times–bestselling book Teachers Have It Easy is considered a landmark work examining how bad policy makes teaching unsustainable. Interweaving teachers’ voices from across the country with hard-hitting facts and figures, the book presents a clear-eyed view of the harsh realities of public school teaching. With a look at the problems of recruitment and retention, the realities of the workweek, and shocking examples of how society views America’s teachers, Teachers Have It Easy explores some of the best ways to improve public education. Since its initial publication by the New Press, and multiple hardcover reprints in 2005, Teachers Have It Easy has attracted the attention of millions of educators and policy-makers nationwide, appearing on the New York Times extended bestseller list, C-SPAN, and NPR’s Marketplace. The response to the book was so strong that Pulitzer Prize finalist Dave Eggers and his co-author Nínive Calegari wanted to share these stories in a visual way—and to bring the kinds of amazing people and facts from the book to a wider audience in order to effect real and lasting change for teachers. BUY IT HERE