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Teacher Man: A Memoir by Frank McCourt
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Teacher Man: A Memoir (original 2005; edition 2005)

by Frank McCourt

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Title:Teacher Man: A Memoir
Authors:Frank McCourt
Info:Scribner (2005), Hardcover, 272 pages
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Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (2005)

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English (71)  German (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (74)
Showing 1-5 of 71 (next | show all)
This is the second work of Frank McCourt’s I’ve read (the other being Angela’s Ashes, which I read and reviewed in September of last year). And since he chooses to call both of them ‘memoirs,’ I can only conclude that the man knows what he’s talking about and is a master of the form.


McCourt is about as real a writer as I can imagine. His language is straightforward – never hackneyed, never trite – and every situation he describes seems to lift right off the page and into a reader’s eyes, ears, nose and gut.


If I think this particular memoir should be recommended reading for every teacher in the New York Public Educational system, I’m even more convinced that it should be required reading for every administrator in that same system. (I’m of course assuming that those teachers and administrators can be both honest and introspective enough to read the book with an open and receptive mind.)


I’ve substitute-taught, myself, in the New York Independent School system here in Brooklyn, in Manhattan, in the Bronx and in Queens – and my application to teach in the public school system was twice rejected. The chief distinction in qualifying for the former and even being considered for the latter is now – if it wasn’t already – crystal clear to me after having read McCourt’s own experience of both. (Although Stuyvesant High School is not, properly speaking, part of the Independent School system, the guiding philosophy of that particular school – as we have it from McCourt, and as I know it from some of its graduates – is very much in line with that of NYC’s Independent schools.) The Independents look for passion and creativity in their respective staffs; the Publics look for obedience, strict adherence to rules, and a Master’s Degree in Education.


Please allow me a second anecdote. This one concerns a school I attended in South Florida when I was a kid….


I’d just graduated from Bayview (public) Elementary School in a section of Fort Lauderdale known as ‘Coral Ridge,’ and I was now headed off to middle – or as we called it those days – junior high school.


I ended up, quite felicitously, going to what was then billed as an “experimental” school called ‘Nova’ just west of Fort Lauderdale in a little town called ‘Davie’ and right down the road from some obsolete gravel pits. It was one of a kind in the entire U. S. At the time I entered the 7th Grade, the school had only 7th – 10th, the plan being to add 11th and 12th over the next two years, then to start building back to kindergarten and eventually to build out to a university. In other words, kindergarten through graduate school, all on one campus.


What made the school “experimental” other than what I’ve just described as its future plans? Apart from state-of-the-art science labs and foreign language instruction in several languages, both ancient and modern, starting already at the 7th Grade level, no bells or buzzers to mark the start and end of class periods; carpeted hallways; college-like lecture halls for some of the Intro to XXX classes. And the most innovative and exciting thing of all? Every student could advance at his or her own pace in a given discipline. You could – as a motivated eleven- or twelve-year-old – find yourself sharing classroom space with high school seniors.


In fact, many students went on to college at the age of fourteen or fifteen.


It was the happiest and most fulfilling year of my long academic career – and, I’d like to think, at least the germ of a start to my writing career.


My parents, for various reasons, pulled me out after one year and put me back into the public school system. Within short order, the annoying habit I’d developed at Nova of reading (rather than gabbing) while waiting in line in the lunchroom rendered me something of an apostate, but I wasn’t in school to win a popularity contest. Also within relatively short order, a science teacher put an end to my incessant questions by reminding me publicly “You’re not at Nova any longer. Rusty.”


(It wasn’t until I eventually moved to Brooklyn that I better understood the meaning of a name – which I still remember quite well – namely, his: ‘Mr. Schmuck.’)


But back to Frank McCourt’s memoir, Teacher Man. Two descriptive words occur to me immediately: ‘vivid’ and ‘compelling.’ If you have any thoughts about the state of the present educational system(s) in America – or have children of your own who may already be in one of them or are about to enter – I can’t give this memoir a high enough recommendation.


But I should let McCourt, himself, have the last word – just as he did with his students on the last day of their secondary education, and on the last day of his teaching career.


“This is where teacher turns serious and asks Big Question: What is education, anyway? What are we doing in this school? … I’ve worked out an equation for myself. On the left side of the blackboard I print a capital F, on the right side another capital F. I draw an arrow from left to right, from FEAR to FREEDOM.


“I don’t think anyone achieves complete freedom, but what I am trying to do with you is drive fear into a corner” (p. 253).


RRB
06/30/14
Brooklyn, NY

( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
This is a "real" account of Frank McCourt as a teacher. It is his deep truth. He has opened his school door and allowed us in, to experience and feel what it was to be a teacher in his shoes up in front of his class.

We learned what it was like for Frank McCourt on that first day of his first class up until his last day.

We understood and he wasn't much like the other teachers around him. He did things differently. He had a difficult time of trying to grab his students attention. When he found he had the class engaged, he went with the flow. Sometimes, having other teachers, parents and even the students wondering what the purpose of this lesson was. Even Frank wouldn't know.

Frank was not shy about telling us his story of the way it really happened. There were times, when I thought, if I was the author, I would have skipped "that part", just so it would make myself not look bad. Frank laid it all out on the table.

This book gave me more appreciation for all teachers. A must read for everyone. ( )
  callmejacx | Mar 31, 2014 |
hits the highs and lows of an award winning teaching career. no one wants to write about the day to day boredom of teaching or any other job. ( )
  mahallett | Feb 11, 2014 |
I got Teacher Man from the library on my husband's request, and ended up reading it first! It is Frank McCourt's memoir of the 30 years he spent teaching in public high schools (and one community college) in New York City. McCourt is an excellent writer and I thoroughly enjoyed his memoir. He has many insightful comments about teenagers, teaching, and life in general. I highly recommend Teacher Man whether or not you are a teacher yourself. ( )
  sbsolter | Feb 6, 2014 |
I recommend the audio, as it is read by McCourt himself, and he’s a wonderful reader, hah hah (you’ll have to listen to get that). Those who have read [book:Angela’s Ashes] — a marvelous memoir of Frank’s early childhood in Ireland— will remember him growing up in abject poverty, worn to the breaking point by hunger and a father—best intentions notwithstanding— who drank away whatever little money he was able to earn. Alcohol is a desperate problem for the Irish in McCourt’s books. It seems no one could do anything or go anywhere without a few pints. The local tavern—of which there must have been thousands —apparently substituted for home life. Still, both books have an undercurrent of humor that’s very enjoyable. ‘Tis takes up where Angela’s Ashes ends. Frank is 19, fresh off the boat in New York — he’s an American citizen, having been born in New York —and he has bought the American Dream, a land of riches where everyone has enough to eat and can become president. But the 1930s finds New York as inhospitable to the poor as Limerick. Ironically, his ship lands at Albany and he has to find his way to New York in the company of a friendly—too friendly as we later learn—priest. A recurrent theme, never quite explained, is Frank’s problem with his eyes: “like two piss-holes in the snow.” Never completely cured, his problem is repeatedly misdiagnosed, and, perceived by some employers to be contagious, he is banned from public contact in his first menial job (of many) cleaning up after rich patrons at the Biltmore Hotel. There’s a very funny scene in which he is ordered by the manager to dig through the garbage to find a paper napkin on which some ingenue had inscribed the telephone number of some Princeton beau. Thinking it was trash, Frank had taken it out with the garbage. Incensed, he spills some coffee on a clean napkin, writes some made-up phone number on the ersatz napkin, and presents it to the teary girl as the authentic one. It’s a wonderfully satisfying scene. Some reviewers, including my wife, have found this book to be much gloomier and not as sympathetic as Angela’s Ashes. I found it otherwise. It’s true that many of his assumptions and illusions about America were destroyed, but it’s a great story about the value and power of teaching and education. Libraries were his salvation. It was because he was a reader and loved books that he was able to get into college without a high school diploma. But there is an undercurrent of jealousy and envy that pervades his relationships with others. He resents the privileges of the rich, and complains about the sons and daughters of the rich who can send their children to Stuyvesant High School, where he later taught, so they could make money and grow “into their fat 40’s.” He wants to be middleclass, but he complains he doesn’t know how to dress or act, and he turns his wedding day into an alcohol-fueled debacle. There’s also a view of the Irish as a very clannish bunch who were constantly urging each other to stick together. They helped each other out, using the political power they had accumulated to create jobs for themselves to the exclusion of anyone else, but particularly blacks, something Frank abhorred. McCourt’s mother makes it over to the United States, but she’s not a happy woman, constantly complaining about tea-bags from which one certainly cannot make a decent cup of tea, and whining about not having any friends. McCourt has a wonderful storytellers gift, and I found the vignettes of his friends, most of them rather sorry individuals, quite amusing. There is Andy Peters, who changes a few unapproved loan applications every night to approved in order to help out some of the less fortunate, and Harry Ball, an 85-year-old neighbor who spends most of his time in a chair near his car trying to scout out better parking places.

( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 71 (next | show all)
Yes, Frank McCourt, the author of "Angela's Ashes" and " 'Tis," has done it again - distilled from the mash of his life a strong and alluring narrative brew. You start reading, one story leads to the next, and all of a sudden two hours have passed.
 
At the very least, McCourt has produced a collection of aphorisms that will grace classroom posters till the last red pen runs dry. ("You'd be better off as a cop. At least you'd have a gun or a stick to defend yourself. A teacher has nothing but his mouth.") And at most, he's described the teacher we all wish we'd had.
 
McCourt's many fans will of course love this book, but it should also be mandatory reading for every teacher in America. And it wouldn't hurt some politicians to read it, too.
added by thebookpile | editPubisher's Weekly
 
McCourt pays deep homage to the three decades he spent teaching English...punctuated by moments of crisis, connection and transcendence.
added by thebookpile | editElle
 
The same dark humor, lyric voice and gift for dialogue are apparent here....The teaching profession's loss is the reading public's gain, entirely.
added by thebookpile | editKirkus Reviews
 

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Frank McCourtprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Letizia, Claudia ValeriaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindholm, JuhaniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Preis, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Risvik, KjellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Viallet, LaurenceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the next generations of the Tribe McCourt:
Siobhan (daughter of Malachy) and her children, Fiona and Mark.
Malachy of Bali (son of Malachy).
Nina (stepdaughter of Malachy).
Mary Elizabeth (daughter of Michael) and her daughter, Sophia.
Angela (daughter of Michael).
Conor (son of Malachy) and his daughter, Gillian.
Cormac (son of Malachy) and his daughter, Adrianna.
Maggie (daughter of Frank) and her children, Chiara, Frankie, and Jack.
Allison (daughter of Alphie).
Mikey (son of Michael).
Katie (daughter of Michael).
Sing your song, dance your dance, tell your tale.
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Here they come.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0743243773, Hardcover)

For 30 years Frank McCourt taught high school English in New York City and for much of that time he considered himself a fraud. During these years he danced a delicate jig between engaging the students, satisfying often bewildered administrators and parents, and actually enjoying his job. He tried to present a consistent image of composure and self-confidence, yet he regularly felt insecure, inadequate, and unfocused. After much trial and error, he eventually discovered what was in front of him (or rather, behind him) all along--his own experience. "My life saved my life," he writes. "My students didn't know there was a man up there escaping a cocoon of Irish history and Catholicism, leaving bits of that cocoon everywhere." At the beginning of his career it had never occurred to him that his own dismal upbringing in the slums of Limerick could be turned into a valuable lesson plan. Indeed, his formal training emphasized the opposite. Principals and department heads lectured him to never share anything personal. He was instructed to arouse fear and awe, to be stern, to be impossible to please--but he couldn't do it. McCourt was too likable, too interested in the students' lives, and too willing to reveal himself for their benefit as well as his own. He was a kindred spirit with more questions than answers: "Look at me: wandering late bloomer, floundering old fart, discovering in my forties what my students knew in their teens."

As he did so adroitly in his previous memoirs, Angela's Ashes and 'Tis, McCourt manages to uncover humor in nearly everything. He writes about hilarious misfires, as when he suggested (during his teacher's exam) that the students write a suicide note, as well as unorthodox assignments that turned into epiphanies for both teacher and students. A dazzling writer with a unique and compelling voice, McCourt describes the dignity and difficulties of a largely thankless profession with incisive, self-deprecating wit and uncommon perception. It may have taken him three decades to figure out how to be an effective teacher, but he ultimately saved his most valuable lesson for himself: how to be his own man. --Shawn Carkonen

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:31 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

In this tribute to teachers everywhere. McCourt records the trials, triumphs and surprises he faces in public high schools around New York City. His methods anything but conventional, McCourt creates a lasting impact on his students through imaginative assignments, singalongs and field trips. As he struggles to find his way in the classroom, he spends his evenings drinking with writers and dreaming of one day putting his own story to paper. The book shows McCourt developing his ability to tell a great story as he works to gain the attention and respect of unruly or indifferent adolescents. His rocky marriage, his failed attempt to get a Ph.D. at Trinity College, Dublin, and his repeated firings due to his propensity to talk back to his superiors ironically lead him to New York's most prestigious school, Stuyvesant High School, where he finally finds a place and a voice.--From publisher description.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 12 descriptions

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