TV specials look at teaching, dramatize forced retirement

NBC White Paper: To Be a Teacher NBC, tonight, 10-11 p.m. Reporter: Tom Brokaw. Producer: Tom Spain. On Fire ABC, tonight, 9-11 p.m. Stars: John Forsythe and Carroll Baker. Writer/co-producer: John Herzfeld. Producer/director: Robert Greenwald. ``To Be a Teacher'' is a news documentary that has absolutely nothing new to say about being a teacher, but what it does say it says with simple eloquence.

Producer Tom Spain seems to have a knack for discovering real people who are able to articulate honest attitudes. He has done it often in the past for Bill Moyers.

And he does it here again, searching out teachers and students to reveal the patience, dedication, commitment ... and, often, frustration of those in the teaching profession.

The camera ... and Brokaw ... do not hesitate to focus on the ambivalence of many of the teachers - their determination to persevere despite their reservations about salary and pupils. ``Good teachers,'' Brokaw points out portentously, as if making a unique discovery, ``are a natural resource.... To be a good teacher is a demanding challenge ... for the teachers and for all of us.''

The documentary is most disturbingly relevant in its report that poor pay, horrendous hours, and low community prestige are finally making it almost impossible for schools to recruit qualified teachers. Only totally dedicated people still choose this career. And there simply aren't enough of those around.

``To Be a Teacher'' is a worthwhile documentary, because it personalizes a problem we all know exists. It would have been even more worthwhile if it pointed out some new directions for solutions.

``On Fire'' is a drama that serves one major purpose: It is a warning for everybody to plan ahead for their retirement activities.

Although he is totally miscast as a blue-collar, head-of-household fire chief who has been forced into early retirement, silver-haired, silver-tongued, impeccably groomed John Forsythe manages to play the character sympathetically, if not realistically.

Although he has no financial problems, the chief is faced with empty days and age discrimination when he looks for a job after the age of 60. ``I'm not an old man,'' he protests. ``I've got a lot of time left. You can't use me and throw me away.''

``On Fire'' spends too much time convincing viewers they should feel sorry for the man, and not enough time explaining how mature people can plan a later life of value to themselves and others. ``On Fire'' does give ``Dynasty's'' John Forsythe a change of pace as an actor. Come to think of it, maybe he can use that eventually - on his retirement r'esum'e.

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