Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Teacher Man – Frank McCourt

Although I read it shortly after it was published and so forget many of the details, Frank McCourt’s third installment of his memoirs, Teacher Man, left a lasting impression on me.

Having taught for 30 years in public education in New York City, McCourt speaks with an authority that demands attention. His uncompromising portrait of what happens in the classroom, and the regular interference perpetrated by administrators, are experiences that any teacher will readily identify with.

In one sequence, he relates how his English department head berated him for having no ambition. His sin? He was content with teaching, while at least four other members of the department were studying for their supervisory papers in anticipation of moving into administrative positions. And McCourt’s character was deemed lacking?

In another part of the book, he says something to the effect that administrators and other bureaucrats had escaped the classroom, only to come back to bother the teachers and the students who were busy trying to get on with the real purpose of education, learning. What teacher can’t relate to those observations?

However, this book is intended for a much larger audience.

Members of the general public will benefit from and enjoy this book because it offers a demystification of education. Replacing the kinds of propaganda that school boards and education officials are inclined to disseminate (you know what I mean, platitudes like ” No Child Left Behind” “Every Child will Succeed” etc. etc. ad nauseam – as if it were that easy) McCourt succeeds in showing that yes, sometimes there are moments of magic, but mostly progress is slow and hard won, so much of it dependent not on the teacher, but on the students themselves. While the tone of the book is anything but self-pitying, he makes it clear to his readers that the life of a teacher is just plain hard work.

Those who see the profession as a series of undeserved perks will not likely be swayed from their biases, but anyone with an open mind will derive much from this memoir.

Even as a retired educator, Frank McCourt has much to teach us.

No comments: