The Learning

Institute History


There is a shortage of teachers in American public school systems. Consequently, a significant number of urban school districts across the country have begun hiring foreign teachers. In this search, the Philippines has emerged as a recruitment hub because of its surplus of education majors, its American-based education system, and its English-speaking population.

There are 600 Filipino teachers currently working in Baltimore City where they make up 10 percent of the teaching force. They have been recruited to teach in Baltimore’s toughest schools, including those identified as “persistently dangerous.” In a modern-day story of immigration and globalization, these young professionals are coming west in pursuit of economic advantages.

When Dorotea Godinez, a 43-year-old high school science teacher with 22 years of teaching experience, is asked why she wants to teach in Baltimore, she responds candidly, "for greener pastures." Dorotea will be earning 25 times as much in America, enough to adequately support her
husband and four sons. Angel Alim, a 25-year-old seventh grade math teacher who has been teaching since she was 21 is the breadwinner of the family. Having accepted responsibility for supporting five of her seven siblings, Angel will fulfill her obligation by going to the U.S. Grace Amper, a 32-year-old ninth grade math teacher with 10 years teaching experience, says she is willing to leave her infant son in order to secure for him a brighter future. Rhea Espedido, a 35-year-old special education elementary teacher who has been an educator for 13 years, will be separated from
her husband and two children for the first time in 19 years. These women are the film's central characters. Their story is at once intensely personal, as each woman deals with the implications of her decision to come to the U.S., and fundamentally public, as they become part of the machinery of American education reform policy.

Across the school year, the teachers experience first hand in Baltimore the systemic inequities that education reformers across the country are grappling with. Every day is a struggle. But they claim their victories where they can, some days not only mastering their classroom but, as they get to know their students better, also fully engaging them. As the year progresses, several students begin to bond with their Filipino teachers. Strangers to each other, the very unfamiliarity of these not-quite identifiable Asian women is opening up the black students. Neither white nor black, the teachers carry none of the historical or cultural baggage of authority figures at school—or at home.

The documentary is shot in HD and chronologically structured almost entirely around verite scenes. Intercut with these scenes are action interviews as the teachers are seen in the classroom and in their lives outside of school. Integrated into the films narrative structure and cast of central characters are the voices of the students and principals. Together they contribute the essential point of view of what is finally at stake in the Baltimore experiment to leave no child behind.


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