Frank McCourt's Teacher Man

Frank McCourt's Teacher Man

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When I was a senior in high school, one of our reading requirements was Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. When our teacher told us that we would be reading an autobiography, there was a collective groan throughout the classroom. As I began reading the book I expected to be extremely bored, but I was surprised because of the entertainment that the book contained. Our teacher admonished us of the hardships that young Frank endured, and she suggested that we look at the book with humor in mind. Once you get past all of the terrible things that McCourt had to go through, there were hilarious situations and happenings in his youth. Such as the time Frank skipped school and then had to stay away from home for days because he was scared of his mother being mad at him.
When I first picked up Teacher Man, I experienced a sense of anticipation. After reading Angela's Ashes I wanted to find out what happened to this poor Irish boy, and I was overjoyed when I found out Teacher Man was going to be on the syllabus for English 10002. McCourt's style is very original because the whole book is like a conversation that McCourt is having with the reader, or that the reader is reading exactly what McCourt is thinking at the time. He uses no quotations and he skips large periods of time. The lack of quotations is may make it hard to read, but since I read Angela's Ashes I was prepared for that. The large gaps in time do tend to annoy me since we have no way of knowing what happened during the years that McCourt chooses to skip.
Frank's wife Alberta is one subject that I wish McCourt would have expanded upon. There really isn't very much at all about her in Teacher Man. It just seems to me that when someone is married their spouse plays a big role in who they are, what their goals are, and the source of their ambitions. Maybe McCourt didn't want a lawsuit, or maybe he only married Alberta because he didn't think he could get anyone else to marry him. My opinion leans toward the latter. I noticed in both Angela's Ashes and Teacher Man that McCourt doesn't have a very high self-image. He often degrades himself or talks about how he is of the lower station, he even went to far as to refer to himself as a "miserable specimen" (p.

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44). I don't believe in stations in life, I believe that you can be whatever you wish to make yourself. I truly feel that Frank did make his own station; he came from the slums of Ireland to earn a degree and teach in New York.
I enjoyed reading about the stories McCourt told to his classes during his teaching career. I'm sure that his former students must feel privileged to have been taught by a now decorated author. It seemed as if McCourt liked talking about his childhood, and I do believe that he brought some knowledge to his students. Teenagers in America don't really know what it's like to grow up in the circumstances that McCourt did, it's almost unfathomable to think that people, real people, actually have to live like that. I also liked the fact that McCourt stated that he also learned from his students. School age children don't ever think that they could teach the teacher anything, and for students reading this book it brings a new perspective to the classroom setting.
Every teacher has seen their fair share of excuse notes that students bring in, and McCourt probably wasn't the first one to notice that "honest excuse notes from parents were usually dull" (p.86). McCourt was such an excellent teacher that he turned the art of writing creative excuse notes into an entire lesson. Instead of having his students write creative stories, they wrote creative excuse notes. This was a superb method for getting students to do work without them knowing that they were actually doing work. I wish some of my teachers had done something like that. It takes a truly exceptional mind to come up with something so simple. McCourt did it out of a feeling not unlike desperation. He had to teach his students somehow, and they wouldn't do regular class work. The fantastic simplicity of this ingenious idea was confirmed when McCourt noticed that "for the first time in [his] three and a half years of teaching, [he] saw high school students so immersed they had to be urged out of the room by friends hungry for lunch" (p.87).
It was entertaining to see the changes in McCourt throughout the course of this book. He had really grown as an individual and as a teacher. When he first started teaching he didn't think he could do it, he couldn't be the hard-nosed teacher that he so admired, but at the end of the book he evolved his own style of teaching that made the classroom fun for him and for his students. At the beginning of his teaching career McCourt disclosed that if he were given free reign of his class he would have told the students to "Push the chairs aside. Sit on the floor. Go to sleep" (p. 24). Later in his teaching career however, he was able to come up with grand ideas for his lessons. There was no need for his students to sleep because he was able to make class fun using recited recipes with musical accompaniment or creative excuse notes.
Reading this book was a pleasure. I was able to glean a bit of light into a teacher's mind and to better understand the pressures they have to face on a daily basis. While girls worry about their latest clash with their best friend and boys worry about being cool, teachers worry about how their students will behave and if their lessons will be interesting enough. After reading this book I have more empathy toward my professors, because even if their class is boring, they are probably worrying about it being boring. McCourt, in my opinion, was an outstanding teacher and a great writer. I am grateful that he chose to put his experiences into words to share with the world.
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