The world’s at war with itself. And this restless vigilance against perceived attacks transcends sociopolitical spaces and permeates the air we breathe. One of these war zones is the German high school in İlker Çatak’s volatile drama The Teacher’s Lounge. Loaded up on weaponized paranoia, the classroom and the teacher’s room in this school vehemently reject any one narrative. What suffers is the fresh new teacher’s idealism, and the old, experienced ones’ notions of fairness and unfairness are questioned.
What Happens In The Film?
Perhaps a shot at truly influencing the young minds in a good way is all that spurred Carla Nowak’s decision to join the high school as the math and PE teacher. But a frustrating string of thefts around the school has severely affected the environment of this educational institution. The teachers’ often unsophisticated approach to apprehending the thief doesn’t sit well with Nowak. In her bold yet quiet rejection of “being a team player,” the idealistic Nowak stands up for the citizen’s rights that the 7th graders shouldn’t be robbed of. They have the right to refuse participation in the wayward witch hunt and the right not to be forced to snitch. But that happens anyway. And a callous, and perhaps just a touch racist, allegation from a class representative inspires the teachers to make their second big mistake, reprimanding a Middle Eastern kid for having money in his wallet. Now, maybe Ali’s parents were in fact telling the truth about why the money was there, but being unable to pin the crimes on Ali does put the teachers in a tough spot. The racially discriminatory weak spots in the school’s claim of “wokeness” are personally felt by Nowak, the Polish woman staunchly sticking to German to keep her colleagues comfortable. Her muffled paranoia, masked perfectly by her compulsive politeness and visible only to us, grows tenfold at the sight of a colleague stealing from the piggy bank.
What’s Nowak’s Plan For Catching The Thief?
The generational contrast between the more seasoned teachers’ understanding of disciplining and Nowak’s progressive approach is what’s evident in every exchange in the teacher’s room. She’s more concerned with giving her mostly sweet 7th graders a taste of the agency that’s rightfully theirs, even if it means letting a few minor wrongdoings go by. The trouble is, the sentiment isn’t shared by her more hotheaded colleagues like Mr. Liebenwerda, Venessa, and even the headmistress, Dr. Bohm. Yet, the fact that their exacerbated anxiety isn’t totally unreasonable is, ironically enough, proven by Nowak herself. The woman against the idea of a private detective aggravating the hostility of the school’s environment deems her own intentions and methods more ethical. She plays detective, a decision that practically is the first spark of the wildfire that’d soon engulf the school, and secretly records a colleague nabbing a few bucks from her wallet. The thing about people like Nowak is that their expectations of the world and the people around them come from a place of unrealistic idealism. It’s obvious that the otherwise sweet Ms. Kuhn’s reaction to Nowak’s accusation would be defensive. Now, chances are, the employee who’s been with the school for over a decade was, in fact, the thief. What are the odds that someone else wore that exact same blouse on that day?
What Consequences Does Nowak Face For Accusing Ms. Kuhn?
The crime comes as less of a blow to Nowak’s somewhat utopian sensibilities than the reactions from everyone around her do. While Dr. Bohm couldn’t be more eager to pin the crimes on Ms. Kuhn and get it over with, the necessary diplomacy also made her remind Nowak that secretly recording her colleagues wasn’t the right move. But Nowak’s plight was never going to be limited to a formal warning. For The Teacher’s Lounge to effectively establish itself as a nerve-wracking workplace thriller, Nowak had to have all of her worst fears come true. The do-gooder had to bear the brunt of not just her own poorly planned actions but the actions of the other teachers when a PTA meeting went out of hand. Ms. Kuhn, mother to Oskar, one of the bright 7th graders, rides the coattails of another parent’s grievances against the school and bullies Nowak. What’s worse? The teacher, who’s a staunch believer in a compassionate approach to discipline, is bombarded with aggressive questions by the students in charge of the school magazine. She wasn’t prepared for any of this. So, obviously, her vagueness is interpreted according to the convenience of the students lashing out at her under the pretext of interviewing her. Blind to the consequences of her actions, Nowak couldn’t even foresee that Oskar would have to face a tremendous emotional blow now that his mother had been let go on the accusations of theft. And even more predictably, her efforts to safeguard the poor kid from vicious bullying and isolation don’t bear fruit. The absolute mayhem inadvertently caused by Nowak’s innocent curiosity results in something Nowak has always wanted to prevent—even more division among the teachers and the students.
Did Oskar Plan To Take Nowak Down?
Nowak’s misfortune is all that you see after a certain point in The Teacher’s Lounge. And despite the genuinely admirable ways she tries to connect with the students, you can’t help but feel the pangs of frustration every time you see the disappointing outcomes of her idealistic ways. Her methods aren’t necessarily ahead of her time, but they’re more dismissive of the often bleak realities of the world. If anything, it’s the fact that she is haunted by the same paranoia that afflicts her other, less gracious coworkers that upsets her even further. She’s desperate in her resolve to prove to everyone, including herself, that she’s above the unsophisticated approach that everyone else is taking to apprehend the thief. Yet, when two of her pupils take an unapproved leave from the PE class to smoke outside, she’s the first to jump to unwarranted conclusions, albeit secretly. It was the same paranoia that nudged her to don the detective’s hat and take matters into her own hands. If she was in fact as sensible as she wanted to believe, why wouldn’t she consider the very obvious possibility that Oskar would pay the price for his mother’s alleged crime?
When the obvious does happen and Oskar faces far more than his overwhelming anxiety over the circumstances surrounding his mother losing her job, Nowak is still holding on to her denial. Granted, the racial discrimination and an unfairly inept approach to reaching a solution are things her colleagues are guilty of, but if you think about it, Nowak’s actions aren’t all that well thought-out either. It’s as though she imagines the world to be a far better place than it actually is. But more importantly, Nowak is unknowingly dismissive of the kids’ emotional intellect and their ability to form opinions and notions based on their perspectives and experiences. She could never imagine that Oskar would threaten her with severe consequences for ruining his mother’s social image and livelihood. Her very limited and often unrealistic understanding of children’s emotions leads her to believe that she can get through to Oskar by throwing him the wholesome challenge of solving a Rubik’s cube.
What The Teacher’s Lounge acknowledges through its often melodramatic portrayal of a layered dispute is a set of consequences. It explores the futility of trying to solve a problem in a setting that’s afflicted by a dispute between contradictory sentiments. The people Nowak works with are less tolerant of unethical misconduct. In her resolve to be the polar opposite, Nowak, on the other hand, is rather cavalier. Even when the school magazine serves as the mouthpiece for the kids’ effervescent hatred toward the teachers, communicating a rather biased opinion, Nowak is far more concerned with letting the kids have freedom of expression. Even if it comes at the cost of the school becoming a battleground of conflicting views and aggressive expressions of the same.
The scene that The Teacher’s Lounge ends with serves as both an answer and a grave disillusionment. It’s a chastizing finger, pointing out to Nowak the unpleasant realities she’s fought hard not to recognize. Even her colleagues acknowledged that this school was no longer the right place for Oskar, who’s gone as far as to assault Nowak with her laptop and throw it in the river to get rid of the incriminating evidence against his mother. Yet Nowak, caught up in her impractical ways of reaching a solution, is arrogant about keeping him on. It’s not that she’s never experienced self-doubt. But her introspection is often driven by her resolve to be unreasonably tolerant. It was especially hard to miss when, in her disquieted state ridden with guilt, she imagined all her coworkers wearing the same blouse as Ms. Kuhn. She was far more inclined to believe that Ms. Kuhn might not have been the thief, even when she was the one to have caught her pretty much red-handed. It’s this same reluctance to accept the harsh truth that tells her that she can convince Oskar to leave the school premises without letting things escalate. The matter of fact is, she’s never understood Oskar. She never believed that the kid orchestrated this domino effect that held the school and the faculty by their necks. Oskar meant every word that he said when he threatened Nowak with consequences. But Nowak, in her reluctance to see the school premises as a space that’s no less brutal than the world out there, dismissed the dangers. In the end, Oskar is escorted out by the police as though on his throne of victory. None of Nowak’s tender methods worked on the kid who had his eyes set on the prize—humiliating Nowak and the rest of the teachers in retaliation for the humiliation his mother faced. Nowak’s idea to get everyone else out of the room was born out of the hope that if she could make Oskar feel safe, she could speak to his reasonable side. If anything, that must’ve given Oskar a bigger sense of accomplishment—victory at the end of his pursuit—with his “worst nemesis” reduced to the same state of isolation as the one he’d found himself in.