Monday, June 26, 2006


Teacher Man, Frank McCourt, Scribner, 2005, 258 pp

Frank McCourt was an English teacher in the NYC Public School system for 30 years before he broke out as a writer with Angela's Ashes. This is his memoir of those years and I thought it was great.

He taught highschool and had students from many backgrounds. Starting out in vocational schools, his students were lower-middle-class and often the children of immigrants. They were hormonally charged, they distrusted adults and had no use for literature or composition skills. Somehow McCourt must hang on through five classes a day, five days a week, trying to get some control of his class, trying to reach the students and fend off the administration. But years later, when he teaches at the most prestigious highschool in New York, he faces similar problems, just because it is school and his students are teens.

In his by now signature style of storytelling, he brings alive the classroom scene as well as his reactions to it. Since I've spent the last year teaching middle-school students in a classroom situation and since all of those students were in my remedial class because they had already been ruined by school and/or parents, reading Teacher Man was like therapy for me, or more accurately, like confession. I felt forgiven for my many grievous sins as a teacher. I also received the blessing of recovering my sense of humor about it all.

Now, like Frank, I am about to retire from teaching. If I could have just a portion of his good fortune as a writer, I would be ecstatic.

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