To Be and to Have is a spontaneous documentary depicting the hard work a teacher continuously provides for his students in a rural part of France where mountains loom in the background. The words 'hard work' are relative as it is manually considered light work while the hours and the emotional patience might be weary on the hardest of men. In addition, very few teachers are recognized for the work they provide for an emerging generation that will eventually take over from the current generation. Nonetheless, the teacher's satisfaction is provided through the success of those he teaches, as they will move away and in due time discover what secrets rest behind the mountains.
The teacher, Georges Lopez, teaches a combined elementary school where the student's age varies with the youngest at about four years old. Despite the wide range of ages among the students Mr. Lopez succeeds in teaching them what is needed to advance academically. The students learn how to draw and write proper letters and numbers and learn what diameter and radius mean. One of the amusing moments in the film is when the younger students learn how to crack an egg and one student misses the bowl while cracking the egg to which Mr. Lopez simply says, "It's ok." This displays how Mr. Lopez does not miss an opportunity for learning, as the child learns a lesson in how to deal with failure. There is a serenity surrounding Mr. Lopez to which the students seem to respond well, which is implemented even when he is dealing with bullying and fighting. It is easy to see that Mr. Lopez has a job that he loves, as he also mentions that he could not imagine having a different job.
The students are uncomplicated kids that prefer to play during recess and chat among one another. However, the students show an immense respect for Mr. Lopez who keeps them in line and on task as he holds them accountable for their work or lack of work. In one scene there is a student, Jojo, who has not finished his assignment as he wants to go out for recess, but Mr. Lopez keeps him inside and makes it clear that he must finish his assignment now and not later. These students learn not only academic skills through Mr. Lopez, but also social skills through verbal communication along with work ethic. These verbal skills are practiced and demonstrated when two students are being reprimanded after a fight, which Mr. Lopez verbally guides the two boys through.
It is pure joy to watch Mr. Lopez handle each and every situation in school, outside of school, and during recess as no situation is the same. Films such as Stand and Deliver (1988), Dead Poets Society (1989), and Emperor's Club (2002) offers insights and the beauty of an enlightening education, but these films do not affect the audience in the way To Be and to Have does as the students truly display a sincere manner in which most children learn. The difficulty a teacher faces in order to get and continue to maintain their attention focused on educational material can be monumental, but in the fiction films this is merely displayed through one situation and with a wink of the magic wand where all students sit in nice rows and pays attention.
Mr. Lopez should have had one more year of teaching when Nicolas Philibert finished shooting the film, which means he has entered retirement by now. In 30-some years Mr. Lopez worked with numerous students as many other teacher have done before him and teachers will continue to do after his retirement. The notion of all the hard work that teachers provide for children are seldom appreciated as many even think teachers are overpaid. However, the audience should consider that without teachers there would not be a progressing civilization, as teachers encourage the young generations inquisitiveness and quests for knowledge, which are a fundamental piece of technological evolution. In addition, teachers help foster social skills which are essential for society's well-being as people must try to get along whether they like or dislike one another. Thus, To Be and to Have offers some true insights on the job as teachers should be regarded as everyday heroes in the last line of defense in a developing society.