Friday, August 17, 2012

Teacher Man, Frank McCourt

From the prologue: If I knew anything about Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis I'd be able to trace all my troubles to my miserable childhood in Ireland. That miserable childhood deprived me of self-esteem, triggered spasms of self pity, paralyzed my emotions, made me cranky, envious and disrespectful of authority, retarded my development, crippled my doings with the opposite sex, kept me from rising in the world and made me unfit, almost, for human society. How I became a teacher at all and remained one is a miracle and I have to give myself full marks for surviving all those years in the classrooms of New York. There should be a medal for people who survive miserable childhoods and become teachers, and I should be first in line for the medal and whatever bars might be appended for ensuing miseries.

From Chapter 1: Here they come. And I'm not ready. How could I be? I'm a new teacher and learning on the job. On the first day of my teaching career, I was almost fired for eating the sandwich of a high school boy. On the second day I was almost fired for mentioning the possibility of friendship with a sheep. Otherwise, there was nothing remarkable about my thirty years in the high school classrooms of New York City. I often doubted if I should be there at all. At the end I wondered how I lasted that long.

This is Frank McCourt's third book about his thirty years teaching in various New York City high schools. He taught English and also Creative Writing. Most of the schools he taught at were vocational schools, and he struggled five times a day, five days a week, to keep the attention of the teenagers he taught. One of the ways that he did this was telling stories, stories of his miserable Irish childhood (you can read in depth about that in Angela's Ashes.) Surprisingly, Teacher Man was my favorite of his three books (Angela's Ashes, 'Tis, Teacher Man.) It wasn't quite as grim as Angela's Ashes, but also very humorous. And 'Tis, looking back on it, it was kind of boring. Or just less interesting.

McCourt is obviously a very disturbed person, because of his horrible upbringing. He has problems relating to people around him, and yet he seems like a very interesting teacher. Not your typical vocational high school English teacher. For example, in one class, he has them reciting recipes to a musical accompaniment. It would be interesting to sit in on one of those classes, and that's exactly what McCourt does in Teacher Man. He's very honest, as usual, and he portrays the various characters in his various classes very well.

Read Teacher Man:
  • if you like memoir
  • if you are interested in teaching
  • if you liked Angela's Ashes and/or 'Tis
258 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

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