I went to see the French film, Entre les Murs or The Class, that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year. The film is based on an autobiographical novel by François Bégaudeau – who plays himself, or a version of himself – about working at a tough multi-ethnic school in Paris. The class of 14- to 15-year-old kids in the film is played by non-professionals, and their unobtrusively authentic classroom scenes have evidently been devised through improvisation.
François is relatively calm, humorous and approachable, but actually a stickler for good manners and tempted to pull rank when the youngsters become too familiar or boisterous. I cringed in recognition at some scenes when the teacher made those elementary mistakes of purveying inconsistent messages about acceptable behaviour and language which we all did / do at times. The way he deals with all the backchat is remarkably realistic and shows graphically how wearing teaching adolescents can be (and also how exhilerating when a student makes a breakthrough).

I did not find it nearly as gripping s the wonderful Être et Avoir, a documentary set in a rural infant school in France, but it was worth watching. images1

And when I woke up to news stories about a six-month teacher training plan proposed in England I thought that every new recruit – especially any who think teaching is an easy option – should watch the movie. While the film, The Class, shows a school with young people in a poor part of Paris, it is by no means as ‘tough’ as some I have worked in; the pupils were on the whole very compliant. It might help those thinking of taking up the government’s offer to consider that teaching is not just about telling highly motivated A Level students about, for example, economics – that’s a doddle. It’s about engaging those who can’t see the point, helping them make sense of what is sometimes a nonsensical world. And that requires a bit more than a few months ‘training’.
The acting general secretary of the NUT, Christine Blower, said that six months’ training was very, very far from being enough.
Ms Blower told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: It doesn’t seem to me to be a sensible idea at all. I think it demeans the position of people who are teachers at the moment and it certainly undermines what is the importance of a profession which is that people have to understand not just the curriculum, not just about behaviour management, but how teaching works with young people.
I agree.

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