‘School Life’ Review
With all the talk about statues these days, maybe it’s career teachers like John and Amanda Leyden who deserve their bronzed images displayed in public so that we may all pay proper respect. The film follows the married couple during their 46th and final year as educators at Headfort School, the only remaining primary boarding school in Ireland. These two have been inspirational and influential to so many students over the years, and now they find themselves in a quandary about how to leave the only life they’ve known since becoming adults.
Co-writers and co-directors, Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane, along with script consultant Etienne Essery, use a loose structure in documenting the daily activities, and the blending of traditions with modernity within the somewhat imposing walls of Headfort. We find it pleasurable to focus on passionate, dedicated teachers rather than on what’s broken with today’s education system. John’s hard line stance and frequent use of sarcasm (“That wasn’t entirely bad”) effectively masks his caring nature and desire to help students learn and improve. He teaches Latin, Math and coaches the student band that plays many familiar rock songs which he considers this just as important as any academic class. Amanda takes a more traditional approach in teaching literature. She uses a well-refined mixture of encouragement and books to facilitate the lessons and motivate students to read more.
The past and present are always on display here…with both the institution and this couple. School and home are blurred lines for the students as well as for John and Amanda. “If we don’t come here, what’ll we do all day?” This line speaks to the uncertainty and wariness that are weighing on the couple as their careers are ending.
As viewers, we must keep in mind that these are privileged children, all of whom are likely to move on to elite secondary schools. In fact, the arrival of selection letters plays a role near year end. When alone at home, we hear John and Amanda complain about students, not unlike you probably complain about your co-workers. The difference here is that this man and woman are truly dedicated to helping each student become their best self.
The film style allows the day-to-day challenges to appear as they may, and while little is learned about individual students, it’s clear that John and Amanda are lost about leaving the only working life they’ve experienced…a devotion to helping kids develop. In fact, the Headmaster, Dermot Dix, is a former student of the Leydens. The film’s original title, In Loco Parentis, translates to “in place of parents”…we wish these pseudo-parents nothing but the best in the biggest transition of their life. They certainly have earned happiness, and maybe even a statue.