Ellen Knechel is an intern in the Community Engagement and Education Department at POV. She is a freelance filmmaker and a former teacher.

Rafe Esquith with Hobart Elementary School students.

For National Teacher Appreciation Week, we’d like to take a moment to thank the 777 teachers, librarians and community educators who took time out to complete our 2011 Educator’s Survey. The results are in and we’ve discovered some inspiring stats and anecdotes. POV films are used to achieve a wider range of educational purposes than many would expect.

All age groups
Teachers use POV films with students of all ages. They are most commonly used in high school and undergraduate college classrooms, but 13.9% of our respondents reported using the films in graduate level university classrooms, 13.6% use them in middle school classrooms, and 5.1% screened POV films for elementary school students.

Beyond Social Studies and History
While one might be able to predict that Social Studies and History teachers make the most use of our films (40.7% of teachers), we were thrilled to see that over a quarter of the teachers using POV films were, in fact, English teachers. Among them, Christa Overbeck writes, “I use Eve Ensler’s What I Want My Words to Do To You (POV 2003) nearly every year to introduce the idea of writer’s voice and the writing process.

After History/ Social Studies and English teachers, the next largest groups were teachers of Sociology (15.7%), Civics (15.5%), and Film/TV/Radio (9.9%). Foreign Language teachers made up 8.3% of the screenings, Science teachers made up 7.6% of the screenings and Fine Arts teachers made up 6.5%. Other subject areas included: Education, Psychology, Leadership and life skills, Social work, Women’s Studies, LGBT Studies, Business, Religion, Geography, Health, Law, Computer technology, Math, and Journalism.

Big world/ Small world
POV films seem to have a way of making the world both bigger and smaller at the same time. Survey respondents report using POV films as a way to familiarize their students with new places and cultures as well as provide them with a story they can relate to. Overbeck writes, “When I select ‘texts’ for my classroom, I am always looking for things that will engage my students in worlds that they don’t naturally encounter on a day-to-day basis. I want them to be surprised by what they encounter.” Another teacher explains, “We live in a small, rural Montana town and viewing POV films helped expand my students’ views of the world as well as gain knowledge about Hispanic cultures and languages. “ Andy Pearsons hopes his students will see something of themselves in the characters on screen. Pearsons, who teaches on the south side of Chicago writes, “We watched The Boys of Baraka (POV 2006) and my high school is similar to that shown in Baltimore.”

Long ago/ here and now
Teachers report using the films to teach events that are centuries old as well as current events. Sam Diener, a history teacher at the college level, writes, “I use clips from The Last Conquistador (POV 2008). It helps show students that this event from 500 years ago still has powerful resonance in controversies today.” Meanwhile another teacher reports on effectiveness of POV films in generating discussion on today’s most pressing social issues. “The lessons I did with Food Inc. had the most student participation that I ever had. Students felt they were tricked into buying unhealthy food.”

Films in action
While the impact of a documentary film can be difficult to measure, the survey results suggest that POV films change the way people think about the world. Jacki Thomas remembers how African American students were having trouble mixing with students who were recent immigrants from Africa. Rain in a Dry Land (POV 2007) “helped us inform students about some of the issues that brought families from Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, The Gambia, Togo, and Liberia into our community.”

Alice Griffin had a similar experience in her 10th grade Language Arts class at an inner city high school. She relates, “The diverse population was divided by race/culture and POV documentaries were an excellent way to break down barriers, dispel stereotypes, and unite our population of Puerto Rican, Dominican, Haitian, Vietnamese, Cuban and African American students.”

POV loves to hear feedback from the educators who screen our films and use our lesson plans and discussion guides. Share your stories and suggestions with us!

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POV Staff
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 400 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.