In his fine book The Courage To Teach, Parker Palmer writes: "I am a teacher at heart, and there are moments in the classroom when I can hardly hold the joy. When my students and I discover uncharted territory to explore, when the pathway out of a thicket opens up before us, when our experience is illuminated by the lightning-life of the mind then teaching is the finest work I know." In this beautifully crafted documentary shot in a one-room schoolhouse in northern France, Georges Lopez experiences some of the same pleasures but on a smaller scale since the children he teaches are only four through ten years old. One senses within him the joy that Parker Palmer writes about so eloquently. The filmmaker, Nicolas Philibert, glides through an academic year in the lives of these rural children and their dedicated teacher. To Be and To Have salutes the fine art of education and the magical moments when learning yields insight and delight.
Georges Lopez is a very patient man. He works closely with the children in his care. He stays with a little girl who has trouble concentrating on learning how to count. He gently tries to help two older boys understand why they got into a fight with each other. He spends some time talking with a shy girl who has trouble communicating with the others. In each instance, Lopez models what it means to be a sensitive and compassionate human being, in addition to being a capable educator. The children seem attuned to his style and that is why the classroom is not a cauldron of chaos. Although there are many activities going on at once, Lopez knows how to orchestrate the energy in the room for the purposes of learning.
It's a marvel to behold this teacher covering all the subjects from reading, writing, and math to the culinary arts and sledding. Philibert spills the story out into the countryside with several outings, shots of the changing of the seasons, and several sessions of children doing homework with their parents. In an interview, Lopez recounts how he got into teaching and why. At age 55, he has been teaching for 35 years, 20 of them in this school. The film demonstrates how connecting with children is at the heart of what Lopez does and who he is.