This is about an older French movie <a docudrama I imagine it is called> called The Class.
It is a movie where a real-life high-school teacher, François Bégaudeau, plays a version of himself as a teacher at a Paris high school in a poor neighborhood.
<Here is the trailer for the movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUzKu51bY04 … >
If you have ever wondered what life as a teacher is like … don’t hesitate to watch this movie.
It is a frightening glimpse into how every class is a balancing act teetering back and forth between deeply disillusioning and goose bump inspiring. You will experience such frustration almost to the point of despair and within moments you will experience the unexpectedly touching moment.
Ultimately … it all ends up in what one review called ‘a god-awful mess’.
About The Class:
It is an examination of the complex dynamic that develops between an inspired, but humanly flawed, teacher and a diverse group of <cynical but generally good hearted>students.
Directed by Laurent Cantet (Time Out, Heading South), The Class, which won the prestigious 2008 Palme d’Or at Cannes and landed an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film that same year, finds its meaning in the spirit of improvisation. “I try to take a risk in reconstituting the incongruity of life,”
That incongruity is woven into the texture of the story. Loosely adapting a book by French school teacher Francois Begaudeau, Cantet illustrates how this dedicated, idealistic instructor tries to teach a diverse group of students from various social classes and cultures. The results are as diverse as the students themselves. Cantet transforms the material into an entertaining, yet incisive look at how the process of learning can be predicated by certain social and political realities.
Some of my thoughts.
Using a cast of non-actors to play the students the movie provides a facsimile of documentary realism <but it is a movie … maybe call it ‘historical fiction-like’>.
It is a frightening glimpse of how a teacher … not a parent … is faced with the pertinent issues that inevitably grow out of classroom discussions. And the sheer randomness a teacher is faced with as the topics include everything from interpreting The Diary of Anne Frank to arguments about rival football teams.
The Class tries to take a realistic approach as it doesn’t idealize the students and also doesn’t deify the teacher either. To me … it showed kids as kids … and teachers as … well … humans. Teachers are portrayed as flawed but doing their best <especially when inspired> even when their best is possibly just not good enough.
There is a great example of ‘humanness’ of when the teacher attempts to confront the bad behavior of two girls who are class representatives.
He uses an insulting pejorative that has the opposite impact of what he intends.
It becomes easy <assuming you take the time to put yourself in a teacher’s shoes> to recognize that the potential for not dealing with each and every situation at its best is incredibly high. That often I imagine a teacher makes it to the end of a day having all energy sapped out of them simply from weaving their way through the minefield of situations they faced that day <and not by anything to do with actual teaching>.
There is a great scene when the teacher of The Class arrives at the faculty lounge after dealing with a particularly difficult class and several of the other teachers appear shell-shocked, ready to pack it in. he hears … these kids don’t deserve to be educated; they’re like animals in heat; let them rot in their dead-end low-class jobs.
He argues that a teacher’s job is “to bring kids out.”
And he does … until, about an hour and a half into the movie where he ‘loses it’ <if but only for a moment or so> and it all goes to hell.
The Class is just over two hours and it is a relentless 2 hours as you view a nonstop battle to engage, engage and engage more with the students … sometimes simply trying to keep chaos at bay. The teacher moves from offense to defense and tries to mediate … but he’s a white male authority figure from a more prosperous class teaching mostly immigrants. When he presses them too hard on, say, a point of grammar, his pupils parrot Marxist maxims and maintain that he can never understand their perspectives.
They are not really wrong but the teacher keeps going on and trying.
There is a delightful scene where he finally truly engages his students within an assignment to write self-portraits. Suddenly they haltingly share their hopes and fears about their bodies, life, families, and <for many> the struggles of an immigrant family … trying to adapt in a country that hasn’t made them welcome.
For a moment you not only see why a teacher wants to teach … but you get a glimpse of our young at their best and most open.
You see the students as destabilizing disruptive progress inhibitors while still recognizing that often their behavior is driven by self-preservation.
Sometimes it is as simple as that in their sometimes simple minded defense rhetoric and behavior is a simple terror of losing face in front of their peers.
There are glimpses of students as in-class people and out of school people. Young adults struggling with Life.
There is one scene in particular, before the school system’s disciplinary committee, in which a proud, taciturn teen <named Souleymane> must translate his African mother’s pleas to forgive her son. It is ironic, terrible, heart wrenching. You feel helpless. One of those moments where you almost wish you could step into the movie and help. It is powerful.
Souleymane is defiant and scared and isolated … and the only teacher with a hope of saving him is now is the teacher who cannot help him because the teacher himself is in self preservation mode.
This one scene is heart wrenching … maddening … and reality.
Society has created an almost ‘kill or be killed’ scenario for teachers … within the classroom AND within the administration AND with parents.
It reminds you that the threats come from within the classroom AND outside the classroom as you watch teachers who truly have good intent in mind being tested by the real world.
They make you understand that teaching is moment to moment, an endless series of <grinding thoughtful> negotiations that often teeter on intangibles … on the teacher’s imagination and empathy and the struggle to stay centered … and simply having the energy to deal with the situation at hand.
The movie ends on a bitter note.
It leaves a not so pleasant taste in your mouth while making its point that maybe the system is not broken but rather that, just as in Life, it is complex and flawed … but choices have to be made so that everything can continue to move on.
And as a teacher you just keep on going and try to do better the next time. Teachers … despite the moment to moment teaching energy grind … recognize … in some form or fashion … they are dealers in Hope as much as educators.
I think this is a remarkable movie.