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Teacher Man [Paperback]

Frank McCourt
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Sep 2006

A third memoir from the author of the huge international bestsellers Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis. In Teacher Man, Frank McCourt details his illustrious, amusing, and sometimes rather bumpy long years as an English teacher in the public high schools of New York City…

Frank McCourt arrived in New York as a young, impoverished and idealistic Irish boy – but one who crucially had an American passport, having been born in Brooklyn. He didn't know what he wanted except to stop being hungry and to better himself. On the subway he watched students carrying books. He saw how they read and underlined and wrote things in the margin and he liked the look of this very much. He joined the New York Public Library and every night when he came back from his hotel work he would sit up reading the great novels.

Building his confidence and his determination, he talked his way into NYU and gained a literature degree and so began a teaching career that was to last 30 years, working in New York's public high schools. Frank estimates that he probably taught 12,000 children during this time and it is on this relationship between teacher and student that he reflects in ‘Teacher Man’, the third in his series of memoirs.

The New York high school is a restless, noisy and unpredictable place and Frank believes that it was his attempts to control and cajole these thousands of children into learning and achieving something for themselves that turned him into a writer. At least once a day someone would put up their hand and shout 'Mr. McCourt, Mr. McCourt, tell us about Ireland, tell us about how poor you were …' Through sharing his own life with these kids he learnt the power of narrative storytelling, and out of the invaluable experience of holding 12,000 people's attention came ‘Angela's Ashes’.

Frank McCourt was a legend in such schools as Stuyvesant High School – long before he became the figure he is now he would receive letters from former students telling him how much his teaching influenced and inspired them – and now in ‘Teacher Man’ he shares his reminiscences of those 30 years and reveals how they led to his own success with ‘Angela's Ashes’ and ‘'Tis’.


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Teacher Man + 'Tis + Angela's Ashes
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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (4 Sep 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007173997
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007173990
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 56,191 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

‘McCourt has a compulsion to tell us the story of his life, but he does it so well – modulating beautifully from ventriloquistically exact repro teen-speak to rhapsodic meditations on his midlife crisis – that one couldn’t possibly want him to stop. I wish I could have been in one of his classes.’ Sunday Times

‘This memoir about teaching is unlike any other I have read: relatively mundane events and incidents shine against that backdrop of that pathetic, abused child.’ Francis Gilbert, Sunday Telegraph

‘In this third memoir, McCourt recounts his years as a high-school teacher in New York, where he would stop at nothing to reach his surly charges. Nine times out of 10, his approach was successful and it is exhilarating to see these generations of tough-talking teenagers blossom.’ Observer

From the Author

Louise Tucker talks to Frank McCourt

How did the experience of writing Teacher Man differ from that of writing Angela’s Ashes and ’Tis?
Teacher Man was much harder to write. I think that, perhaps, I was more self-conscious now that I was a big shot, bestselling author. And the stuff did not flow that easily. I was dealing with thirty years of teaching and thousands of students and there was a heavy process of selection.

You end Teacher Man saying ‘I’ll try’. Now that you have tried, and succeeded, how do you feel about that man on the threshold of his ‘second act’?
The main thing is I’m a late bloomer and that means I’m having a hell of a second act.

You spent years teaching creative writing and yet not writing. Did you find that frustrating?
All through my teaching years I tried to write. I filled notebooks with ideas and even nibbled at Angela’s Ashes material but I never sustained anything.

Some argue that writing cannot be taught, that MAs and MFAs are a waste of time. Do you think such courses are helpful?
I was a ‘creative writing’ teacher at Stuyvesant High School – but for God’s sake don’t tell anyone as I don’t have much faith in such courses. The aspiring writer would be better off out there suffering.

Teaching is in some ways good training for the life of a writer now, in that it is as much about performance as it is about sitting at a desk. Do you enjoy the public side of being a writer as much as the private?
I enjoy most of the public stuff. At this stage of my life I’m simply recycling my teaching career. The ‘private part’ of writing is hard – especially with Teacher Man.

In Chapter Four you tell your students about your experiences of ‘real work’. Do you think it helped you, in both professions, to have experienced a much harder way of earning a living?
I’m glad I worked on the docks and at various other jobs. It gives you different perspectives on life and, most of all, material. Such experiences help ground one.

One parent in thirty years asks if her child is enjoying school. Enjoyment, a colleague points out, is not the priority for most parents but what, as far as you’re concerned, should a school’s purpose be?
I think a school should work like hell to help young people with their ‘potential’ – whatever that is. It should be a liberating rather than a narrowing place where curiosity is encouraged and fostered. Oh, I could go on.

You describe teaching as the ‘downstairs maid of professions’. Why do you think that many parents, pupils and social commentators have so little respect for it?
People in general look down on teachers the way they regard members of their family: they think they know what teaching is all about when the fact is they don’t have a clue, any more than they know what surgery is all about. Teachers, in my examples, are people who failed in other areas, but that doesn’t take away from those who are gifted, hard-working and committed. Also, many people think teaching is easy. Oh, you simply walk into a classroom and blather and the kids sit and listen. Hell, no.

You frequently mention that ‘no one is forcing you to stay in this miserable underpaid profession’. Why did you stay for thirty years?
I think I stayed because I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t do it and because, the more I did it, the more I liked the job – profession – and the challenge of getting through to the kids.

Is failing to finish your doctorate ever a regret?
If I had earned that doctorate I would have wound up teaching in a college. I might have become a pompous academic and there would have been no Angela’s Ashes.

Often you mention that the ‘farther you travel from the classroom, the greater the financial and professional rewards’. Were you ever tempted?
No, never. Again I would have become a pompous ass with an office.

If you could choose one moment, one student, that epitomized what teaching meant to you, what or who would it be?
I’d choose a negative moment. I barked at a girl who merely questioned the grade I’d given her and I was so mean about it I shocked myself. I learned never to do that again. From the negative came the positive.

What do you miss most about the job? And least?
What I miss most is the exuberance and excitement of the classroom. What I miss least is the claustrophobic atmosphere created by bureaucrats and politicians.

Are you still in touch with any of your students?
I meet former students everywhere. One, Susan Gilman, was recently on the New York Times’ bestseller list with a memoir, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress. She said she owes it all to me. I agreed with her.

The parents called you a fraud for telling stories but the students loved you: how did such conflicting opinions help or hinder your teaching?
I paid little attention to parents. Their ideas of education conflicted with mine. I don’t mean that in any disrespectful way but they worried mostly about grades and I didn’t really give a fiddler’s fart.

How has teaching changed since you left? Are there any changes that you mourn?
Teachers now have to deal with a tsunami of technology that would have driven me out of my mind. I would have had to bar all mobile phones, iPods, etc, from my classroom – and that would have been a great problem

Writing is essentially solitary; teaching social. Do you believe that you weren’t ready for the quiet solitude required to write when you were younger?
When I was younger I wanted the fame and attention that come with publishing so I would have been more interested in the superficial than in the hard grind of private work.

‘You are your material,’ you tell your students and this has been the case for you. Do you think you have exhausted yours now?
Yes, I’m finished with Frank McCourt memoir stuff – unless I draw on it to write a novel.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars not quite a trilogy... 18 Oct 2006
Format:Paperback
an excellent book, a great insight into the teaching profession, and New York in the time McCourt was working, but if you expect the third part in the angela's ashes and 'tis trilogy, then it isn't quite this, it's less autobiographical, and more a collection of anecdotes and happenings, with some overlap from 'tis.

nevertheless, excellently written, and very warm... definitely worth a read if you loved angela's ashes and 'tis. if you haven't read these, definitely read them first though.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A smile. A reminiscence of the good old school days. How many times did our teachers address us with that remark? If you are a teacher, how often did/do you say it to your students? Countless times. Mr. McCourt recounts his 30+ years as a teacher in various high schools in New York. For those of you who were, are or will be teachers, and for those who were, or are students, or if you simply like real-life stories, this is the book for you.

Honing his teacher's skills as the years went by, Mr. McCourt delivers a true insight of life in the classroom, with its laughs, its tears, its frustrations, its joys. This book is constellated with memories of his past, which he would often talk about to his pupils who always listened avidly and eagerly and were encouraged, in turn, to open up and believe in themselves.

His passion for teaching is all there in those laughs, tears, frustrations and joys. Unquestionably, teaching was what Mr. McCourt was meant to do, no matter how undervalued a profession it often was/is, but if you love it, that passion is the fuel igniting everything.
His writing is, as usual, witty, harrowing, poignant and humorous at the same time. He explores his own weaknesses and strengths squarely, learning as he teaches, facing hundreds of challenging minds every day.

After "Angela's Ashes" and " 'Tis ", this is perceived by the author as the last book about himself. Should it be the case, please allow me to quote him once again by saying that I'm so glad that he "sang his song, danced his dance, told his tale". Auspiciously, he'll write some more.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Teacher woman 28 Dec 2005
Format:Hardcover
I'd like to express my opinion on "Teacher man" as a reader of all the previous McCourt's novels and as teacher woman in a vocational/technical high school. Frank Mc Court has given voice to the thousands of undervalued, underpaid teachers all over the world, teachers who struggle to get their students involved in the process of learning, adolescents who carry their problems at school and we have to listen to them, try to help them.... McCourt is superb when he says that after five classes a day, a hundred and more students to care of...you go home but your head is full of the clamour of the classroom. Those who have been teachers can understand the deeper meaning of such words. In the same way correcting students' tests during the weekend ignoring husbands, sons because you have a duty to your students, you have a duty to perform, students want to have back their tests marked within a week. Your head is full of 125 students, girls, boys...you still thinking about the chemistry working in classroom B and not in classroom C although you are the same person, you speak the same language, wear the same clothes. That's what I've liked best in "Teacher man": McCourt is one of us, he's real, he's done his job with passion as it has to be done.As McCourt had no time for reading during his school days I've had to wait for my Christmas holidays to be able to read his book. Frank McCourt is a winner and with his writing he'll inspire thousands of people to better themselves, to find a place in the world because he made it in New York but any other place in the world would be perfect to achieve what we want. Dreams may come true with Frank McCourt.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading 28 May 2010
Format:Audio CD
This excellent book should be required reading for anyone who wants to teach. Teaching is like panning for gold, washing through tons of muck to find the tiniest grains, but when you do .... you`re hooked. Frank McCourt's lucid style reminds me of George Orwell. His rhythm is that of the practised storyteller. Conversational and melodic, his prose demands to be read out loud. His dry self-deprecation and his alarming gift for recognising the funny aspect of situations, even truly awful ones, convey perfectly how tedium and frustration vaporise the moment a student discovers his own creative drive. I recommend this book to anyone who loves the English language.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By AndyL
Format:Paperback
Frank McCourt's final volume of memoirs is as funny and evocative as his previous two. While a comfortable-ish life in New York can never tug on the heart strings as much as the unhappy Irish childhood of Angela's Ashes, McCourt imparts great emotion into the ups and downs of his 25 year teaching career. His great skill is to quickly sketch a character so that in a paragraph or two you know exactly what type of person they are. He gives an insight into the life of a teacher in New York's public schools, dealing with 175 kids a day and the difficulty of finding time to involve yourself with them.

However, that is the one downside of the book. Characters - kids and teachers - are introduced and dealt with quickly, and then he moves on. 25 years is a long time to cover, but it is as much a collection of anecdotes as an overarching biography - I didn't pick up many pervasive themes, save for a vague "teaching is tough but if you stick at it you can help people" feeling.

It's clear from the book McCourt was a humourous and much loved teacher, and that comes through in his writing. Well worth a read, but expect a gentle ramble rather than a brisk direct trot.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Book as described and delivery on time.
Published 16 days ago by Reginald Moore
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Both my husband and I had read Angela's Ashes and wanted to know more about Frank McCourt's life and what happened to him after he left on the boat to Ireland. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Linda McRae
3.0 out of 5 stars An ok read
An overall good read but nowhere near as good as Angela's ashes or Tis an overall good read but nowhere near as good as Angela's ashes or Tis
Published 3 months ago by sheila
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of teacher man
I would recommend this book to anybody. I love Frank's work. One down side is that Frank did not produce far more work when he was alive. LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE you Frank.
Published 8 months ago by Linda Cassidy
5.0 out of 5 stars Let me teach.
The most concise account of teaching I have ever read. Throw out all pedagogical books and just read this. So just let me teach!
Published 13 months ago by Leo O'Reilly
5.0 out of 5 stars "Find what you love and do it." Frank McCourt
It is with a sense of sadness that I put Teacher Man back on the bookshelf. A recommendation by two great teachers whom I admire, it is a teaching memoir both laugh-out-loud funny... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Miss Pom
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good Read - Essential for Wannabe Teachers!!
Teacher Man, the last published work of Irish-American author Frank McCourt. All round, this is a very good read and will not take much of your time to get through it. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Fox in the Box
4.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure
This is a very different book to Angela's Ashes.
It's like listening to a witty, self-deprecating yet passionate man tell you stories of his life. Read more
Published on 17 May 2012 by leekmuncher
4.0 out of 5 stars teacher man
a good read, comprising frank mcCourts struggles with himself'and withteaching teenagers who dont want to be taught grammar spelling etc.. Read more
Published on 5 Oct 2011 by bookworm
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous
I have received the book on time. As the advert said, it was in an excellent condition. Thank you, Carmen.
Published on 30 Aug 2011 by carmen
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