Frank McCourt was born in America to Irish parents who brought him up (so to speak) in Ireland. At the age of 19, he made his way back to America, where he worked in a variety of low-paying jobs while earning a college degree, after which he taught in New York schools. His book on growing up in Ireland Angela’s Ashes won the Pulitzer Prize. A moving story of pain, loss, deprivation & hope, it’s quite simply the best memoir I’ve read till date!
This was followed by ‘Tis, based on his later life in New York. However, the 30-year period during which he taught in schools, was largely given the short shrift in this book.
With Teacher Man, McCourt makes amends, and gives us a bit more insight into this part of his life. The book (or at least the parts I’ve read) is vintage McCourt, with his unique brand of low-key humour shining through the most painful of experiences. Also, like the earlier two, it is the story of a young person discovering life… excerpts below (from http://books.guardian.co.uk/extracts/story/0,,1648343,00.html ):
“Mea culpa. Instead of teaching, I told stories. Anything to keep them quiet and in their seats.They thought I was teaching.
I thought I was teaching.
I was learning.
And you called yourself a teacher?
I didn’t call myself anything. I was more than a teacher. And less. In the high school classroom you are a drill sergeant, a rabbi, a shoulder to cry on, a disciplinarian, a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a referee, a clown, a counsellor, a dress-code enforcer, a conductor, an apologist, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a politician, a therapist, a fool, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic, a psychologist, the last straw.”
“The big puzzle at the end of the term is how does the teacher arrive at a grade?I’ll tell you how I arrive at a grade. First, how was your attendance? Even if you sat quietly in the back and thought about the discussions and the readings, you surely learned something. Second, did you participate? Did you get up there and read on Fridays? Anything. Stories, essays, poetry, plays. Third, did you comment on the work of your classmates? Fourth, and this is up to you, can you reflect on this experience and ask yourself what you learned? Fifth, did you just sit there and dream? If you did, give yourself credit.
This is where teacher turns serious and asks the Big Question: What is education, anyway? What are we doing in this school? You can say you are trying to graduate so that you can go to college and prepare for a career. But, fellow students, it’s more than that. I’ve had to ask myself what the hell I’m doing in the classroom. 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.”