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TELEVISION REVIEW

She could teach us a few things

'Ms. Groves' follows a young instructor as she tries to reach lower-income students in middle school.

August 28, 2007|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

You can keep your shape-shifting, reality-altering, self-repairing, spaceship-flying or bionic women -- my heroine of the moment is Monica Groves, a passionate 21-year-old whose University of Virginia class ring confers no special powers, perhaps apart from a little extra confidence. And it's a confidence she'll need: "The Education of Ms. Groves," which airs in four parts, tonight through Friday on Sundance Channel, follows Groves through her first year of teaching English at a lower-income Atlanta middle school. As the title suggests, it isn't so much that she'll teach her kids how to learn, as that she'll learn how to teach them. You will want to get out your handkerchiefs.

An expanded version of an NBC "Dateline" that won a 2006 Peabody Award, "Ms. Groves" dispenses with the correspondent-driven format of the original, which moved the story with narration and questions. Director Izhar Harpaz lets the material speak for itself here. Of course, even at its extra length -- which makes room for the enriching detail or passing remark ("Sweetheart, this is not your handwriting," Groves says as she collects a report from a student) -- it's just a sampling of her year. Of her life outside school we see almost nothing. From a day full of classes and students, the filmmakers focus on her difficult fourth-period class, and three students within it, each of whom have extracurricular hardships. One lives with his cancer-survivor mother and three siblings in a motel room; another pines for a father in jail.

"I haven't met them yet, but I already love them," Groves tells her video-diary-cam on the eve of meeting her first students. And though she'll have other moods to express ("Either you attack the day, or it attacks you," she is soon saying, "and it beats you down"), and come to doubt herself, she manages to keep that glow alive. And it's true that learning is a kind of love affair, not merely with a subject, but between student and teacher -- a point perhaps made a little heavily when Groves gets a visit from her own adored first-grade teacher, brought on in a "This Is Your Life" stunt no less moving for having been orchestrated.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'The Education of Ms. Groves'

Where: Sundance Channel

When: 8 tonight

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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