Aldo Williams: A brilliant film – and a tribute to teachers

If you're a secondary teacher, you're lucky if it's just one class and unlucky if it's two or more. These are the classes that utterly, miserably, wretchedly, exhaust you. End of term can't come soon enough. In fact, in your worst moments maybe you have been thinking that the end of the school year and a change of job can't come soon enough – maybe to the private sector, where you know such grimness just doesn't occur.

But didn't you come into teaching to make a difference to kids like this? Well, that was then and this is now and, as TS Eliot must have written just after taking 10C: "Humankind cannot bear very much reality." You've probably already had more than enough of it this year.

But, before you give in your notice, I have a suggestion – go and see the movie The Class, or get the DVD. You've probably heard of it – teacher in not very pleasant Paris suburb struggles with one particular Year Ten class. It's all messy failures – theirs and his. Muzzy successes, ditto. This film is certainly not of the "committed teacher, uncommitted class, and piercing white light of learning wins through in the final reel" genre, though the committed and uncommitted certainly fill their usual roles.

So this class, these teenagers, are unruly, sulky, inattentive, uncaring, winding each other up and – their favourite sport – winding the teacher up good and tight. But of course it isn't the entire class, and beyond the three or four loudest and most disruptive we see, but rarely hear, the rest – the ones who make no fuss, who just want to learn, who wish the noisy would shut up, and who make you feel even worse than you might when you realise that they never get from you the attention they need.

The extraordinary achievement of the film is that although it was scripted to a degree, the pupils aren't actors and the teacher is the teacher who wrote the book that became the film. What we see unfolding before us is every bottom set of that age that you have ever taught, and there's you, holding on by the skin of your teeth, out at the front and up and down the rows – more or less losing it, or more or less winning it.

Our teacher tries to teach the syllabus – an aspect of the subjunctive in one lesson (how the French love their grammar). But the lesson's a failure because, as the class point out to him in the brutal fashion you're probably very used to, the applications he suggests are going to be of no likely use to them at any time, ever.

The school itself seems typical, too. It is by no means failing, and is probably averagely successful. There are boundaries that are more or less accepted by the class, so desks and chairs don't fly round the room or out the window, as they did in one school I taught in some years back. And there are times when all the class get their heads down and write, and achieve something, and are proud of it. The "highlight" of the film is a possibly unjust permanent exclusion. Our teacher doesn't come out of that at all well.

So why should you see this film? You suffer these kids in the week, so why should you watch them strutting their sad, shallow, raucous stuff in the comfort of your own home? You should see it because it's probably one of the few ways you will really see the real good you are doing. No, it's not as much good as you would like, but this film makes it pretty clear that the good some of them get from their teacher, in spite of his failures, is a lot more than they will ever get without him.

Let me spell it out for you. As a teacher, you are probably one of the few decent adults some of these teenagers will ever meet. You're not drunk, you're not on drugs, you don't beat them or abuse them. You expect order, decency and work back from them (though you may not get it).

You have time for them, you're prepared to listen to them. You show them you care about them and you want to do all this through the medium of teaching them things that might make it a little easier for some of them at least to make more of a go of life than the narrow, abusive and restricted world they inhabit will ever allow them without you. See this film, learn that lesson. They may not need the subjunctive, but they do need you.

The writer is a former teacher at a comprehensive school

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Opilio Recruitment: Product Owner

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Opilio Recruitment: Product Development Manager

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Recruitment Genius: Qualified Nursery Practitioner - Sevenoaks

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Room Leader - Nursery

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunit...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas