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NBC News: Dateline: The Education Of Ms. Groves

Jun 4, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The journey of a newly minted teacher navigating his or her first year teaching was an idea first sparked by NBC correspondent Sarah James and “Dateline” producer Izhar Harpaz. “The story of education in the U.S. had been told and told and told again,” said reporter Hoda Kotb, who took over when Ms. James stepped aside for personal reasons. “Everyone wants a new way of looking at it. We weren’t sure what was going to become of this story. We miked up the teacher and loaded the room with cameras and wondered what would happen.”
What happened was complicated, emotional and fascinating. The “Dateline NBC” primetime special, “The Education of Ms. Groves,” executive produced by David Corvo, follows Monica Groves, an idealistic 21-year-old new college graduate, as she enters the classroom for the first time. An African American who grew up in a middle-class white suburb, Ms. Groves taught at Atlanta’s Jean Childs Middle School, with 99 percent African-American enrollment and students struggling with a host of difficult family circumstances beyond her imagining.
Finding the right teacher to profile was the first challenge. Mr. Harpaz contacted Teach for America, an organization that recruits college graduates to teach for two years in difficult schools. “They were very generous in collaborating with me and sent me a list of 15 possible candidates who were interested in being profiled,” he said. “Monica was the fourth person I called, and I knew right then that I’d found the right person.
“What makes a good character is if they’re honest with themselves, somebody who’s trying to be self-critical. You could feel that Monica was really honest and that she was considering teaching as more than a two-year commitment. So it wasn’t just a teacher trying to figure out how to educate young people, but also a teacher in search of whether that was something she wanted to do.”
The “Dateline” crew set up cameras in the classroom and shot 90 days throughout the school year. “The access the school gave us was extraordinary,” said Mr. Harpaz. “We relied on Monica to help us understand when important events would happen, like the dates of final exams.”
Ms. Groves also kept a video diary, which Mr. Harpaz and his team reviewed for more information on when their presence would be most fruitful.
Any concerns that the kids would not be themselves in front of the camera quickly melted away. “They just weren’t influenced by us,” he said. “We became part of the classroom.”
One of Ms. Groves’ first assignments was asking her students to write a poem expressing who they were. It was an entree for the “Dateline” team to choose their subjects. “We shot seven [kids] reciting their poems,” said Mr. Harpaz. “Some didn’t work out at all, we thought others were stronger. We just saw what’s happening and if the story was working, we followed it.”
The team interviewed many children, but also had to drop many when absent parents couldn’t sign a release form. The three children they chose-rambunctious Maya, quiet Steve and confident Drew-open up the drama, with one dealing with a father in jail and another part of a homeless family living in a hotel room.
As the year progresses, we see Ms. Groves go from her early energy and optimism, determined that 80 percent of her class would get a B, to a self-confessed “tyrant” angry at disruptive students and self-critical to a fault. By the end of the special, she has found a middle way, loving her students and demanding attention and excellence without resorting to anger or shouting. “She was real,” said Ms. Kotb, “and not afraid to show warts and all.”
With 150 hours of footage, the creative team faced the biggest hurdle: telling the story of a year of transformation for Ms. Groves and her students in 38 minutes. “It was easy to construct a dramatic arc, to show the dramatic and negative scenes and forget that this was a first-year teacher,” said Mr. Harpaz. “It was easy to show this as a failure. I wanted to be able to show that it was hard being a teacher, let alone for experienced teachers, and that we weren’t giving credit to teachers around the country.
“At the end, I figured out, let’s just write what happened and not try to analyze it or question the educational issues,” he said. “Let’s just tell the story. If you tell the story and show the images, you have to trust the audience to see how difficult it was and how much commitment went into it.”

40 Comments

  1. ms groves how can i recieve ur tape or video to show to others

  2. ms groves how can i recieve ur tape or video to show to others

  3. I would also like to know how to receive a copy of your segment. This year I was a first year teacher in a middle school and I know I made a difference, but what you have done with your students was remarkable. I would like the opportunity to watch the video again.

  4. i would love to have a copy of this documentary to share with my daughter who is a fourth grade teacher

  5. I must have a copy of this tape. I want to show it to my faculty on the first day of school. This is a fabulous review for a first year teacher.

  6. How can I obtain a copy of this program to share with my teacheres here at Henrico County Schools?

  7. I would like to know how I could get a copy of this documentary to share it with a group of elementary school teachers.
    Thanks

  8. Ms Groves I am a school counselor and would love to show my faculty this video. Will it be available any time soon.

  9. Ms. Groves,
    I applaud you for the work that you do for your children. I am a middle principal who serve students very similar to yours. I would love to show your video to my staff about how they, too, can make a greater difference/impact in the life of a child. They work hard and I know they sometimes feel hopeless, but your work is so inspirational. Keep doing what you do for children! Please let me know how I can obtain a copy of your video.

  10. I am writing a story for a local magazine in my hometown on first year and last year teachers- a comparison, contrast type of story. And would love to be able to listen to or get a copy of this video, The Education of Ms Groves shown on Dateline News in June of 2008. My email is: shaffer7@cox.net
    thank you
    Patricia Shaffer
    Rhode Island

  11. Can I purchase a DVD or video of your story that ran on Dateline?
    Please respond.
    Thanks!
    Brenda Reese
    Instructional Development Department
    Amarillo ISD
    7200 I40 West
    Amarillo, TX 79106
    brenda.reese@amaisd.org

  12. I need a copy of the DVD to help in the work I do with youth and youth managers. How can I get it?
    Thank you,
    Cora Lanier
    cora_lanier@hotmail.com
    phone (423) 227-5999

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