TEACH Roadtrip, inspired by Davis Guggenheim’s documentary TEACH and organized by the nonprofit Roadtrip Nation, began filming in San Francisco in August and stopped in locations nationwide, such as Yosemite National Park; Boulder, Colo.; Chicago; and New York. At night the Roadtrip Nation team slept in a big blue-and-green RV. By day they set up interviews with influential educators and education professionals, such as National Teacher of the Year Sean McComb and DonorsChoose founder Charles Best.
After traveling through 15 states interviewing educators and change makers to find out more about how they came to be in their professions, TEACH Roadtrip participants Rafael Silva, Nadia Bercovich, and Grace Worm made one last pit stop. The three aspiring educators joined Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Friday, Sept. 5, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., to answer questions from a packed audience about education and share what they learned on their cross-country expedition.
The mood was decidedly hopeful—both the road-trippers and Duncan spoke optimistically about teaching as a profession and education as a whole. They stressed the elasticity of teaching and the importance of lifelong learning.
“I never aspired to be secretary of education,” replied Duncan after the road-trippers asked him to describe his professional journey. Duncan explained how he followed his mother’s footsteps and took a year off after his junior year of college to work at her organization, the Sue Duncan Children’s Center, in South Chicago.
“My friends were becoming investment bankers and lawyers [while] I taught for a year in Mom’s program,” said Duncan. He spoke of learning lifelong lessons during that year and solidifying his commitment to education. Duncan said that although he was initially skeptical of what he could accomplish on the federal level, he is “much more optimistic today than when I started.” That’s because he believes in the “ability for all teachers to have an impact.”
One million new educators will be needed over the next four or five years, so Duncan emphasized the need to attract and keep talent to educate the students who need it most.
“If you want to do something really important, want to have an impact, there is no better thing than teaching. [It takes] a little bit of toughness, a lot of heart, [but there is] no better place to make a meaningful impact,” said Duncan.
After interviewing Duncan, education professionals, and teachers who have faced the roadblock of being judged solely by test scores and limited resources, all three road-trippers are still committed to working in education.
“Nothing is harder, nothing is more complex, but nothing is more important,” said Berchovich. She was originally disillusioned about education, but the road trip has changed her perspective. “The myth that education is rigid and boring has gone away,” she said. “We are the young people going into the workforce. We are going to change this. You don’t have to be a teacher to be an educator—we need people in all parts of the spectrum.”
After seeing the reality and hardships that teachers deal with, Silva is even more excited to get into the classroom. At first he was scared of life after college, but today Silva feels ready to enter the real world. “Now I’m worried my last year [of college] won’t be as exciting as the rest of my life,” he said.
“If I know I love teaching and I know I love helping, I’ll find a way to do it,” said Worm, who was originally worried about the future. After this experience, Worm is now confident that things will work out. Instead of being concerned about titles and roles, Worm has expanded her definition of education. “Everybody’s a student. It’s not about educating the best and brightest but about educating everyone to the best of his or her abilities,” she said.
The road-trippers are adamant that education should be a main concern of their generation. “Maybe our country’s not in a place to realize it, but we will be soon,” said Silva.
Teachers are “creating the future,” Worm said. “How can you not care about that?”
TEACH Roadtrip will air on Pivot TV, TakePart’s sister network, this fall.
This article was created as part of the social action campaign for the documentary TEACH, produced by TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates.