I had bought this book when I was living in Brussels in an effort to read more local writers and not only French ones. I surely chose it because of the subject, I wanted to see if the Teachers’ Room in a Belgian primary school would have anything to do with the ones I have experienced in Greece. I bought the books and I hadn’t even realized it was a theatrical piece.
The language is simple, although I found many idioms I hadn’t met before and I delighted in them. And the setting is simple too: a teachers’ room in a small school somewhere in Wallonia. In the beginning I was so surprised to find almost identical personalities with the ones I know from reality. Mind you the play was written in 1962, a period of an important reformation of the Belgian educational system. My feelings were fluctuating between recognition, surprise, revolt, disappointment, desperation. The teachers were mostly portrayed negatively: the acidic type who is authoritarian and doesn’t understand any new proposals and considers them superfluous. The unionist, who couldn’t care less and is looking for a way out of education, because his real passion is elsewhere. “Education is a side job for me” a colleague had once told me. The older lady who keeps knitting in the teacher’s room and worries only about whether her husband will have his dinner on time. “I can’t participate in the school trip because I will be late and who’s gonna give Yiannis his lunch?” another colleague had told us. The only character that is laudable (and like whom I would like to be as a teacher) is the person who tries to find a balance between enjoying her classes and respecting her students. But even she becomes unnecessarily ironic at times and at that point I realized how great Wouters was. Because the play was not a one-dimensional portrait of people who were only like I described above. There was sensitivity in all of them and even if they had conformist ways of teaching, they loved what they were doing and they are all shocked when the first-time substitute teacher decides not to continue teaching after a year at school.
In the end what I saw was that a teachers’ room is very similar everywhere, because people are very similar. No one should be on their high horses about teaching and their colleagues. When I look closer at my own experiences I admit that I have met many charismatic teachers. That each one of us brings something different at school and all together we make something special. And at the end of the day each one of us does the best they can.
If you are a teacher and read French I strongly recommend it. Great reading just in time for the “rentrée scolaire”.