Smith College Admission Academics Student Life About Smith news Offices

Home > Offices > News Office > News Releases > News Release

News Releases
Documentary Film Series "'Only' a Teacher"
To Premiere At Smith Education
Symposium Nov. 3 ­ 4

Editor's note: Digital video outtakes from the documentary film"'Only' a Teacher" featuring Springfield, Mass., science teacher Aurora Fleming and Hadley, Mass., second-grade teacher Brian Sheehy and their students, are available. To obtain, contact Laurie Fenlason at (413) 585-2190 or

A number of leading figures in education research and reform, among them Theodore Sizer, chair of the Coalition of Essential Schools, and Sonia Nieto, a noted scholar of multicultural education, will gather at Smith College on Friday, Nov. 3, and Saturday, Nov. 4, for a symposium titled "Teaching in America."

A highlight of the symposium will be the premiere of "'Only' a Teacher," a three-part documentary film by Northampton filmmaker Claudia Levin, which will serve as a focus for discussions.

More than five years in the making, "'Only' a Teacher" examines the changing role of the American teacher from the mid-1800s to today. Although filming took place across the country, the series also features two teachers from Western Massachusetts -- Aurora Fleming, recently retired from Forest Park Middle School in Springfield, Mass., and Brian Sheehy of Hadley Elementary School in Hadley, Mass. Interviews with teachers like Fleming and Sheehy bring home the teachers' personal sense of mission, while historical context helps reveal the roots of our current educational practices and concerns. These concerns include teacher training, professional recognition, working conditions, unions and teachers' roles in the struggle for social change.

The symposium begins at 4 p.m. Friday with Sizer presenting the keynote address, titled "A Happy Place to Work." The former dean of the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, Sizer is the author of several influential books on school reform, including "Horace's Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School."

At 7 p.m., participants will watch and discuss the "'Only' a Teacher" episode titled "Those Who Can ... Teach." The one-hour episode examines the professionalization of teaching from the early development of school bureaucracies and the attendant rise of teachers' unions, exposing America's ambivalence toward a profession practiced mostly by women.

Sessions on Saturday begin at 10 a.m. with a screening of the film segment titled "A Teacher Affects Eternity." The episode explores the ongoing importance of teachers in the lives of their students, emphasizing their crucial influence as role models and upholders of social norms. An 11 a.m. keynote speech by Nieto, professor of language, literacy and culture at the University of Massachusetts and author of "The Light in Their Eyes: Creating Multicultural Learning Communities," will address what keeps teachers going in the face of often overwhelming expectations.

The final episode of the film, "Educating to End Inequity," examines issues in school reform and their relationship to social change from the end of the 19th century to the present. It will be shown at 1:30 p.m. In the concluding panel discussion of the symposium, at 2:30 p.m., participants will envision alternatives in education, including the most effective roles for teachers in school reform.

The symposium, a collaboration among Levin and the Smith College Department of Education and Child Study and the Project on Women and Social Change, is free, open to the public and wheechair accessible. All sessions take place in Wright Hall Auditorium. Massachusetts educators can receive a three-hour Certificate of Attendance for each day of participation.

"'Only' a Teacher" was funded in part by the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the state humanities councils of Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, California and New York.
For more information, see, call (413) 585-3557, or e-mail

Contact: Laurie Fenlason,, (413) 585-2190.

October 18, 2000


News Release Directory // News Office Home Page // Smith College Home Page

© 2000 Smith College // Please send comments to:
Page maintained by the Office of College Relations.