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Teacher Man Paperback – 4 Sep 2006
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‘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
This is the 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". See all Product description
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Frank McCourt’s memoir on his teaching experience is divided into three Parts, the first and longest dealing with his experience of surviving eight years at McKee Vocational and Technical School, Staten Island. In Part Two he moves to New York Community College and in Part Three, after two years studying in Dublin for an aborted PhD at Trinity College, he returns to America to become a Creative Writing teacher at Stuyvesant High School. For most of the book Frank is in the classroom, facing non-academic pupils who yearn to be free of discipline and routine. He learns their tricks and indeed, much to the detriment of his reputation as a teacher, encourages their bid for freedom. If they want stories about his life of
poverty in Ireland he’ll tell them, if they want outside activities, such as movie-going, he’ll take them and even pay for them from his meagre earnings. Frank is a very earnest and honest man, not afraid to admit ignorance, not afraid of losing dignity and devoted to the thankless task of
what he believes in, something honorifically known as teaching.
In between trudging through mountains of illiterate scripts, Frank manages to tell the reader that he got married, had two children and got divorced; but the focus of the book is on that strange routine and for the most part useless activity of ‘teaching,’ in other words occupying and entertaining the disinterested and cheeky adolescents before him. He is the Pied Piper leading his charges to another world - a world of something called ‘culture,’ where words on the page are substituted for popcorn and candy. It’s a heroic journey, but one founded on the belief and enthusiasm of one man - Frank McCourt. Although frequently reminded of the importance of sticking to the syllabus, Frank goes his own way. Like the maverick schoolmaster AS Neill, Frank believes in Hearts not Heads in the School. The reader empathises with him and with his stand against snobs such as the academic Dahlberg, who asks Frank what he’s reading. Frank replies O’Casey, whose natural writing about growing up in Dublin even matched the work of the ancient masters. ‘If you admire so-called natural writing you can always scrutinize the walls of a public lavatory,’ was Dahlberg’s riposte. ‘My face was hot and I blurted, “O’Casey fought his way out of the slums of Dublin. He was half blind. He’s a … a … champion of the worker …. He’s as good as you anytime. The whole world knows Sean O’Casey. Who ever heard of you?” [speech marks added] To which Dahlberg invites him to leave the party.
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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