For MSU student Zach Barnes, what started as an assignment to produce a short project in his documentary film class became a mission – to tell the story of how today’s climate of teacher bashing and underfunding public education has affected one Michigan community.
The result is a remarkably insightful and powerful documentary, titled Negotiations, featuring candid interviews with a number of MEA members in Lansing’s Waverly Community Schools.
Now a senior at MSU, Barnes got the idea to focus on contentious contract negotiations in Waverly from a college friend who is studying to be a teacher and heard about educators there working without a contract after accepting concessions in previous years.
Once he found Waverly teachers willing to share their experiences on camera, Barnes was schooled in the many issues facing career educators today.
“I went back to my professor and told him, ‘This is way bigger than a 10-minute class project,’” Barnes said.
READ MORE JUMP
An extension on the project deadline from his professor allowed Barnes to tie together many threads to create a picture of conditions that are driving teachers from the classroom and discouraging young people from entering the profession.
“Teachers are dropping like flies these days, and this film sums up exactly why that is happening,” Barnes said.
On the compensation front, the 40-minute film covers student loan debt, step freezes that keep experienced teachers at beginning pay levels, moves by Republican legislators to push higher health care costs onto school employees, and teachers forced to take second and third jobs to pay their bills.
Barnes also manages to convey the dedication and commitment of education professionals who devote themselves to students despite a larger culture that over-values standardized test scores and fails to address issues of poverty among students and families.
“Teachers are the people we should be supporting the most as a society, and we’re not,” Barnes said.