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Inside Dateline: Teaching a teacher

Hoda Kotb: Who would have thought that peeking in on a classroom would be fascinating TV? My job was to profile the life of this first year teacher for Dateline. Meeting Monica, a budding wide-eyed optimist was refreshing. But would these big 6th graders going to listen to this little thing?

August 23, 2006 |

A classroom as fascinating TV? (Hoda Kotb, Dateline correspondent)

NBC's Hoda Kotb

Who was your favorite teacher?  I know mine was a 7th grade English teacher named Miss Rosebrock who was unconventional— and well, incredible. 

I remember every now and then she took us outside for class...  we sat on the grass and wrote. We wrote essays about geraniums, and about life, our best friend.  Anything.  Everything. 

She drew people out: the freaks, the jocks, the nerds like me. I will never forget her. 

Monica Groves is a first year teacher— and she doesn't know it yet— but she will become THAT favorite teacher for some 6th graders.

My job was to profile the life of this first year teacher for Dateline. Meeting Monica, a budding wide-eyed optimist was refreshing. Before the school year started, she told me "I love my kids and I haven't even met them yet." Her postitive energy was contagious, but I have to say when I first me her I was struck by how tiny she was... just a little bitty thing. Maybe 5 feet tall and about 90 pounds soaking wet. 

I was thinking, I wonder if these big 6th graders are going to listen to this little thing. 

We would soon find out.

Our goal was to track her and her students for an entire year. So we packed her 6th grade class with cameras and 'miked her up, and we were off and running.  For a while she and the kids were conscious of our presence, looking into the cameras and minding their p's and q's.  But then something magical happened. They got so used to us that they forgot we were there. We had effectively vanished and that's when the curtain was pulled back.      

Who would have thought that peeking in on a classroom would be fascinating TV... but it is.    It truly is. There is so much raw emotion, love, determination, anger, all out fights. 

Monica Groves desperately tries to educate her kids... but in the end they educate her.

I hope you'll watch.

Share stories of your favorite teacher .

August 24, 2006 |

Meeting Monica (Izhar Harpaz, Dateline producer)

I was ecstatic when my executive producer at Dateline accepted my story proposal to follow a first-year teacher for an entire school year. As a producer I would now have to plan, direct, write the script and collaborate in the editing of this education special. My first and most important assignment: to find the teacher who would allow us to follow her as she navigated her way through the challenges of her first year of teaching. I had contacted Teach for
America who graciously provided me with a list of fifteen potential candidates.

Monica was the fourth person I called. She impressed me immediately: Monica was open, honest and enthusuastic. And she was serious about making a difference in her students' lives, aware that mistakes were inevitable, and confident that she could  withstand a camera scrutinizing her every move. Two minutes into our telephone conversation I decided that my search for a main character had ended. Monica was it. Where she went to teach, that's where I would follow. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made - both professionally and personally.  I would end up learning a lot from this amazing 21-year-old; lessons about committment, perseverance, courage. Lessons about character.

Monday morning, August 9. First day of the 2004-2005 school year. Jean Childs Young Middle School, Atlanta, Georgia. My co-producer Shayla Harris, two camera crews, and I are waiting for Monica's car to pull into the parking lot. There she is. Tentative first steps, as the camera is focusing into a close-up of her face, Monica is clearly nervous, not sure anymore why she agreed to be the subject of our documentary. As if walking into a sixth grade classroom in a tough urban middle school wasn't enough. But turning back is not an option. Monica takes a deep breath, tentative steps turn into a purposeful, steady walk. Her extraordinary journey — and mine — has begun.

Check back on this space for more on 'The Education of Ms. Groves,' and producer and character blogs. The show airs on NBC Saturday, 8 p.m. Please also check your local listings.