Thursday, January 1, 2009

Teachers/Writers Book Review: Teacher Man

Several years ago, I read Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and then his Tis. Both were excellent memoirs, difficult to put down. McCourt’s stories of an impoverished childhood in 1930s Ireland and eventual return to America at the age of 19 were gut-wrenching and frustrating, yet fascinating. It is amazing how much a soul can put up with, and still come out fighting.

I purchased Teacher Man some time ago, and let it sit on my shelf for quite a while. I picked it up a couple of days after Christmas, and was hooked by a line in the Prologue; “There should be a medal for people who survive miserable childhoods and become teachers.” Recalling the first two books, I figured McCourt’s journey as a teacher would be a challenge as well.

While reading Teacher Man, I reflected on the habits and styles of teachers I've had, as well as my own. I could certainly relate with McCourt’s inner struggle with curriculum, with being expected to teach it in a certain way and time frame. I also understood the tiredness, the endless piles of paperwork, the conflicts in and out of the classroom, the perfect and difficult students and parents. I recognized the tremendous loneliness that often takes hold in this profession.

I felt even more kinship with the writer as he told of the occasional joys of conversations with kids, the ways in which students surprise us, reminding us they are people with their own stories. I felt the triumph McCourt must have sensed when he strayed (often) from prescribed material and improvised his lessons, frequently winging it. The results were beautiful, exciting, authentic, artistic, and empowering for both students and teacher. Equally humbling were the lessons that did not call the students' attention, or that just plain fell apart.

I did not have the pleasure of being in one of McCourt’s classes, but after reading this book, I feel as if he is one of my best-loved teachers. He moved me in the last chapter, which is comprised of just two words. At the moment I read them, I felt they fit somewhere in my life but wasn’t quite sure.

I realize today, at the start of a New Year, I will not specify resolutions. In everything, simply, “I’ll try.”


Whateverebay said...


Ali said...

I read about 1/3 of this book at Target while my kids were looking at video games but decided not to buy it; have been meaning to request it from the library since then. Thanks for the reminder! I loved Angela's Ashes and 'Tis and am partial to teacher memoirs.

Stella said...

Hola Amiga! Me encanta q hayas hablado sobre este libro! Lo recibi como un regalo de graduacion y me qued fascinada. Gracias por el reminder! Un abrazo!