Mr Bachmann and his Class


Although it probably didn’t feel like it at the time, those many years of schooling were a big part in making you the person you now are. And yes, that includes all that hands on heads business, pointless assemblies, and ironically enough in this instance, attempting to learn German.

Now whether your experience was a good one or not, when it came to education at least, it was down to one factor – your teachers.

This documentary examines one class, and the relationship they have with one teacher.

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Lying roughly in the middle of the country is the German town of Stadtallendorf. Teaching in one of its schools is Mr Bachmann. His class is a mixed bunch, with a make-up of all manner of cultures and backgrounds, with many of his students not having German as their first language.

He is tasked with teaching these young teens the basics, such as language and maths, but he is clearly one of those teachers that provides far more than that, the kind of lessons that will hold his students in good stead for a lifetime.

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Maria Speth’s documentary although epic feeling in length, at over three and a half hours long, is a truly intimate affair.

It is a journey that mostly takes place within one classroom, with the enigmatic Mr Bachmann, often clad in woolly hat and hoodie, who is coming to the end of his career in teaching.

They say that teaching is the ability to mould the minds of the future, and this documentary almost displays the fingerprints of their teacher imprinted on their developing brains.

Dieter Bachmann is the real-life German equivalent of Dead Poets Society’s John Keating, played by Robin Williams, with what feels like a wholly original style of teaching. So much so that you can’t help but think how lucky these kids are to have him, and how you could have only dreamed of having such an enthusiastic teacher.

Speth’s film plays out as if we’re almost a member of the class, sitting to one side, quietly attentive, watching Mr Bachmann teach in a way that is almost magical.

It is a film about connections, between the teacher and his pupils, as well as between the pupils themselves. Bachmann is firm but always fair, always putting his students first; there’s even a couch to the side where they can have a nap if it gets too much for them.

And although Bachmann is larger than life, there are many other characters here, and although there are some obvious show-offs, it comes across as purely natural enthusiasm and never for the cameras, which feel like they must have been invisible somehow throughout.

Understandably some students stand out more than others, and over the lengthy course of the film, you’re bound to have your favourites, that may well tally with Bachmann’s own, as although he comes across as caring for them all equally, he does so in a way that can’t he can’t hide the fact that he has favourites of his own.

His class is one where all manner of topics are discussed, from religion to sexuality, and there’s a two way line of honesty throughout that is both disarming and enlightening.

It also tackles identity, with Bachmann quietly challenging their own perceptions of what makes who they are.

Speth may owe a lot to her incredible teacher and his class, but her film also owes a lot to French director Nicolas Philibert’s 2002 documentary Etre et Avoir, which this film echoes in many ways, as it was set mainly in a classroom of a rural school in France, taught by one teacher.

Think of this film then as the 2.0 version of that, following a slightly older, and more diverse, group of children.

It’s a film that highlights the importance of education generally, and having caring teachers specifically. How one person, with a real passion, and let’s face it patience, to face a room of young people in a bid to not only impart their knowledge, but also hopefully make them better people down the line for it.

It’s a film that should be on the syllabus for all trainee teachers, as an example of how to not only teach, but to interact with students.

It will leave you as it no doubt left the students involved, feeling nothing but love for the tirelessly considerate Mr Bachmann, as well as a new found appreciation for the passionate teachers like him around the world, who do so much more than just teach children.

A class education. A+

we give this four out of five