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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
An iceberg in Ilulissat, Greenland; researchers have been studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and their long-term ramifications for the rest of the world (Getty)
news
Environment
environment
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Jackman bears his claws and loses the plot in X-Men movie 'The Wolverine'
film
Arts and Entertainment
'Knowledge is power': Angelina Jolie has written about her preventive surgery
film
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Imperial College London: Safety Training Administrator

£25,880 – £28,610 per annum: Imperial College London: Imperial College London ...

University College London: Client Platform Support Officer

£26,976 - £31,614 per annum: University College London: UCL Information Servic...

Guru Careers: Instructional Designer / e-Learning Designer

£30 - 32k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking an Instructional / e-Learning De...

Recruitment Genius: Schools Education & Careers Executive

£30500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Schools Education & Careers Executive ...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing