In the summer of 2013, an emphatic but nonviolent protest movement captured the attention of the state of North Carolina. This culminated in what was called “Moral Mondays,” protests at the state legislature building in Raleigh in response to conservative government legislation following the election of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
North Carolina based filmmakers and educators Rob Phillips and Jason Korreck have witnessed and preserved parts of this movement, as well as the very real effects of the controversial legislation, in the process of filming their upcoming documentary, “Teacher of the Year.”
The At Large Productions film follows Angie Panel Scioli, a social studies teacher at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh, N.C. Scioli, a founder of Red4Ed NC, a non-profit activist organization dedicated to improving public schools in North Carolina, attended a Moral Monday in July of 2013 in the midst of being filmed and followed by Phillips and Korreck for the documentary.
Phillips, also a teacher at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh, told The Carolinian that their idea for the documentary began to take form after Phillips was assigned to be Korreck’s mentor.
“We hope to reveal the complexity of the work that teachers do every day, and a big part of that work involves performing for all community stakeholders. The idea of teachers being like actors is not one that we’ve seen represented in film before, and we’ve expanded that notion to include the impact of media on how teachers are perceived,” Phillips explained.
Initially, Phillips and Korreck planned to film a variety of teachers of all grade levels, potentially reaching out to teachers across the state in order to capture the diverse experiences of North Carolina educators.
However, in beginning this process, the filmmakers documented a staff development workshop led by Scioli in the March of 2013, and everything changed.
“[Scioli] actually raised the point that we’d been hoping to express all along. She said, ‘We all know that this profession to some degree is acting, is a great performance, but this actress was getting a little weary.’ When she made that remark during her talk, I almost fell out of the desk where I was filming. From that moment we began to conceive of Angie as the focus of the film, hoping that the universal would be communicated through the story of one exceptional individual,” Phillips said.
As teachers and parents of elementary school children themselves, Phillips and Korreck expressed that “in some ways, only teachers could make this movie.”
“My kids are in second grade and Jay’s son will be there soon,” Phillips explained. “There is little margin for error when it comes to our kids and their educational experiences. We hope our film can bring attention to the challenges that teachers face, and by extension, we hope that good teachers continue to pursue teaching in this state.”
Reflecting on the film as an educator, Phillips said, “Teaching is an awesome job. This is my seventeenth year as a teacher and my tenth at Leesville Road High. I’m so proud of my students and where I work, but I’m also uncertain about the future. I hope our state can make teaching attractive enough for young people so that they will choose teaching as a career.”
However, Phillips also expressed a concern for the futures of experienced teachers, saying, “I’m not sure what will happen if experience in our field isn’t rewarded and if experienced teachers drift away from the profession. I know how much teachers like Angie do for our school, and I shudder to think how our school will be impacted when Angie retires or leaves the profession. Every school has at least one teacher like Angie, which is to say, a teacher that gives it her all. If we don’t do right by these veteran teachers, our school culture and our students will ultimately be the ones to suffer.”
In terms of productive changes to North Carolina’s education system, both Phillips and Korreck expressed that neither of them have the answers to how to fund and operate public education.
“Greater minds than ours have struggled and continue to struggle with these challenges. However, I hope our film can inform the discourse around the issues, and hopefully we can bring something positive to the mix by letting people see the challenges that teachers confront in today’s complicated classrooms. If we can help to shed some light on the complexity of teacher performance, or if our film engages audiences and sparks some discussion, we will feel like we’ve been successful,” said Phillips.
Phillips and Korreck filmed Scioli for the duration of the 2013-2014 school year, according to their website, teacheroftheyearfilm.com, and have been diligently editing the film since.
They cited “the support of our friends, families and quite a few people taking us on faith and believing in the project” as the source of overcoming the obstacles of busy schedules and a tight budget.
While these obstacles remain, Phillips remains optimistic.
“Though we still have some fundraising hurdles to get over, we are hopeful that we will pull it all together, and make the film what it needs to be as we aim for a 2016 release,” he said.
Phillips and Korreck have a screening and discussion of the in-progress film at UNC-Asheville on Oct. 1, as well as a screening at UNC-Wilmington in mid-October.