The Antidote to Drudgery

Sometimes it's hard to be nice.  Especially when it gets cold: so cold you wear your jacket indoors, and you get used to the creaking of the leather every time you shrug your shoulders, or the swish of filled down as you type with chilly fingers (fingers that never quite warm up until you're back under the flannel sheets upstairs.)

Especially when you're tired: so tired you have to sneak into the kitchen during your first lesson of the day to make a cup of tea, lest you nod off during a particularly dolce Andante.

And especially, most especially, when a two-week vacation leers at you from just around the corner.  You can see it, taste it -- if only you could hurry up and get through the flurry of paperwork, exams, and general miscommunication that seems to flare up, as if by magic, at the end of every semester.  It's so close, that precious time with your family and home, your friends and sadly-neglected reading list.

If only that were how it worked, instead of trudging through hour by agonizing hour.  There's no shortcut besides patience and time.  And so I cannot think of a better source of encouragement and motivation for a disillusioned teacher than Etre et Avoir, the movie I happened to watch last week.  It's the simplest story possible: a few months in the lives of a group of young students (about a dozen, ages 4-12) who attend a tiny school in rural France.  I am often mocked for preferring movies that lack plot, but this is in a class by itself: there is no tragedy, no moral, no brush with greatness, just ordinary children leading ordinary lives with an ordinary instructor.

But the ordinariness of la maitre, as they call him (I am considering adopting a similar title, which would probably put me in a better mood right off the bat) is what makes him so transcendent.  He is not lovey-dovey, showing great restraint with gentle shoulder-pats when tears render a child excruciatingly huggable.  He is not a pushover, sternly admonishing instigators and dawdlers back into docility.  He is not particularly imaginative in his choice of lesson plans or teaching aids, preferring simple workbooks and rote exercises.

So what is it about Georges Lopez that made me shamefacedly examine my own actions of the past week?  A particular favorite was when a hapless student began, "Oh, I thought -- " and I actually responded, "It doesn't matter what you thought, this is how it is -- " and heard the cock crow inside my soul as I wondered, "Did that actually come out of my mouth?"  This man has endless patience -- no, not patience, love -- for his students; enough love to allow one to form an upside-down V instead of a seven and wait while she steps back, frowns and says, "no, that's not it" -- and then make a seven out of a dotted line for her to trace easily.  He never raises his voice above a soft, amiable timbre, whether pushing one to examine the concept of infinity or another to redouble his efforts toward his studies.  He simply teaches, pouring his heart and mind and strength into their fragile forms, helping them to grow.

Anyway, it's a good movie, and it's helped me through this week.