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Greco Middle mentor, teachers star in documentary 'Teach: Mentoring'

TEMPLE TERRACE — Jarryd Reid faced many of the same hurdles as other first year teachers when he taught math at Greco Middle School last year.

With a degree in business administration and no teaching experience, he had to learn on the job how to balance the official side of education, like curriculum and the FCAT, with the more nebulous side: getting kids engaged and passionate about learning.

And he did it all in front of a film crew.

Reid was one of a handful of faculty from Greco featured in the short film Teach: Mentoring by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, who won an Academy Award in 2007 for the documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Guggenheim's 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman featured families trying to get their kids into charter schools. His latest full-length documentary, Teach, follows four public school teachers in California, Idaho and Colorado through their struggles and triumphs in the 2012-13 school year.

After a nationwide search, Greco Middle was one of the final schools chosen for filming. The crew came to the school about four times during the year to film in classrooms and interview administrators. They spent even more time talking to teachers by phone, finding out about their jobs and lives.

The footage from Greco didn't make it into the final film, but became the subject of its own mini-documentary. At just under four minutes, Teach: Mentoring tells the story of Hillsborough County's teacher-mentor program through Trenika Thornton, the mentor at Greco; first-year teacher Reid; and second-year teacher Chris Pettit.

Mentors work with teachers who have less than six months of teaching experience. They meet with teachers, observe their classrooms, and serve as a resource and sounding board for aspects like planning, instruction and classroom management.

Turnover has become a big issue in education.

The filmmakers noted that nearly 50 percent of teachers leave the classroom in the first five years, costing the nation $7.4 billion. The mentoring program aims to give new teachers the support they need early on so they're less likely to leave the profession.

"They're excited that they have someone who is backing them up, standing behind them, beside them or in front of them if they need it," Thornton said. "It's not that the mentor has all the answers, but we have the resources and the experience."

Reid thought he was taking on a lot, being a first-year teacher and agreeing to the filming, but decided it was worth it if would give people a glimpse into the realities of public schools.

"I thought it was more so about the kids, for people to see just what's needed, how much engagement is needed to keep these kids, and how much engagement and passion it takes to reach these kids," said Reid, who is teaching at Tampa Bay Technical High School this year.

A few of Pettit's students sometimes hammed it up in front of the cameras, like one who tried out a British accent. But mostly the kids adjusted and ignored the cameras.

"It was kind of odd at first having people in my classroom while I was trying to teach, but I got into it," eventually forgetting they were there, he said. "I walked into the boom mic a couple of times."

Parents were generally supportive of the filming, Greco principal Yinka Alege said. He worried the film crew would be disruptive, but teachers and students embraced it.

"It's a middle school where any day anything goes on," Alege said.

But a lot of effort has gone into the school culture in the last year. Students have made gains in reading, math and science, and the school had the second highest attendance rate in the district, he said. Allowing cameras into the classrooms was a chance to showcase that success and the role mentors played in making it happen.

"It's about cultivating a culture where the students want to be here to learn and the teachers want to be here to work," Alege said. "That's my goal because that's what made me want to go to school every day."

Keeley Sheehan can be reached at ksheehan@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2453.

Teach

To view Teach: Mentoring, visit the Hillsborough Public Schools YouTube page, the HCPSVideoChannel.

Teach premiered on CBS on Sept. 6. For more information about the full-length documentary, visit takepart.com/teach.

Greco Middle mentor, teachers star in documentary 'Teach: Mentoring' 09/13/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 13, 2013 4:28pm]
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