Monday, September 21, 2009

Entre les Murs

I finally got around to watching Entre les Murs this weekend. In America, it was marketed as The Class. It tells the story of a French teacher working in a rough neighborhood in a rough school in Paris - mostly immigrant students, lots of backtalk, struggling to get people interested, etc. A number of things struck me about it. Perhaps most bizarrely, the actual facility the school was in - the school building - was beautiful. It was clean, there was chalk, paper, coffee machines, a big lunch room, so on and so forth. Clearly funding isn't the issue. So that was interesting.

Teachers also seemed to be genuinely involved with their students, to some extent, but on the other hand, they were really dismissive. One of the students was a boy from Mali named Souleymane, and the French teacher says, in Souleymane's defense, that perhaps he's just limited. Discipline issues and a general disaffection with school end up getting him expelled (with some help from the teacher). It was frustrating beyond belief - it was one of those cases where, with just a little more effort, this kid could have been kept there and actually succeeded. He reminded me a lot of my City Year kids who were so smart, but so close to the edge, that they really just needed someone to keep them involved and remind them that someone's keeping an eye on what they're up to.

The teachers also had a huge amount of impunity. About halfway through the movie, the teacher calls two students skanks, and he suffers no repercussions! I was trying to picture this happening in one of the schools I went to, and it just ... didn't compute. Not that there aren't huge breaches of teacher/student relationships in US schools (I can think of several off the top of my head), but when the teacher involved tells his principal, "Yes, I called two 13-year-olds skanks in front of the entire class" and the principal doesn't do anything about it, it was pretty shocking. And it had long-lasting effects on kids' lives. Argh. Teaching looks hard.

One problem I had with the movie is that it was in French. After two hours of French, I've started incorporating little bits of French into my thought process, where it's battling it out with Spanish (I can conjugate regular -er, -ar, and -ir verbs!), Turkana, and Swahili. Maybe the reason Swahili and Turkana kept themselves separate so easily is because they're two different language families. I guess I can't learn any other Bantu languages, because I don't want to screw up Swahili. But man, speaking Franishkanahili or something is getting complicated.