An astutely observed debut

by Rob Rector

When looking down from the perch of the administrative overlords, teaching is a generally thankless profession, there is nothing new to this fact (as someone who has made a career of it, I should know). Sure, once in a while, you may be nominated for some plastic-trophy award and, if you’re lucky, a $25 gift card at Starbucks, but generally the ratio of what you put in and what you receive from your supervisors is far from equitable.

So when Mitch Carter (played by Matt Letscher) earns California’s “Teacher of the Year” award as a humble English teacher at the struggling Truman High School in Los Angeles, an opportunity arises that would allow him to speak across the country and earn a significantly higher salary than his meager pay at the charter school.

It’s a potential job that would mean financial stability for his growing family (he and his wife are expecting their second child), but would mean spending more time on the road, and, despite the crappy pay, leaving the students for which her cares.

Teacher of the Year
Written & Directed by
Jason Strouse
Matt Letscher, Keegan-Michael Key, Sunny Mabrey
Release Date
19 May 2015
Rob’s Grade: B

That’s the premise of Teacher of the Year, a serious-minded, partially improvised, and astutely observed “mockumentary” that is masked as a comedy. Featuring the likes of such comics as Keegan-Michael Key (of Key and Peele), the Sklar Brothers (of ESPN’s Cheap Seats), and Larry Joe Campbell (According to Jim), it’s easy to see where this might be considered yet another National Lampoon-like cheapie that takes the obvious lowest-level jabs at the job and is filled with a bunch of teacher’s lounge dick jokes.

But debut director/writer Jason Strouse apparently based it off his own stint in the world of education, and the result takes some very surprising — and very real — turns.

While comedy does abound thanks to the Sklar Brothers as a pair of clueless guidance counsellors, comedian Jamie Kaler as an envious fellow teacher, and Key as the useless principal, the story heads off into areas that are often handled with a delicate, nuanced touch that only one with first-hand knowledge of the situation can present.

For example, when a fellow teacher is accused of making an advance at one of his students, we see reactions from all of those who are affected: the teacher’s wife, his colleagues, the spiteful student, her mother and the spineless administration who will do anything to keep it out of the news.

We also are treated to how Mitch’s new offer affects him both professionally and personally, with the cameras capturing conversations he has at home with his family.

While there are no shortage of laughs to be found, Teacher of the Year deserves a look for more than a chuckle, as it is one of the more accurate, heartfelt glimpses into the current state of education to emerge in quite a while should earn more than just a mere cheap trophy for its effort and passion, much like teachers in the system today.