Teacher Man by Frank McCourt
I didn’t want to read this book; in fact, I settled for it after my first choice had been taken. My first impression was of a book cloaked in a dingy yellow cover, with a boring-sounding title and an equally boring sounding name. The inside excerpt was just as depressing. The life story of Frank McCourt could be summed up in one word: pathetic.
However, I kept reading, and with each turning page, my attitude toward this memoir shifted from being in the red to climbing steadily into the black. A first impression is not always what it seems, and McCourt’s story proved me wrong. One of Frank McCourt’s three interwoven memoirs, Teacher Man details the thirty years he spent teaching in both the esteemed and overlooked schools in the cultural melting pot of New York City. McCourt’s story is a coming of age novel about his transcendence from voiceless child to barely functioning adult. Through the use of inappropriate humor, a unique voice, and pages of self-loathing peppered with amusement and bafflement, McCourt successfully weaves the effects of his psychologically demoralizing childhood into his adult life and teaching career, and how teaching morally and culturally skewed children is what ultimately allowed him to find his voice as an adult.
McCourt’s writing style is as unusual as his teaching style. Choppy and blunt, the syntax is oddly compelling and positively enhances his sarcastic and occasionally caustic diction. McCourt’s teaching career begins at the Mckee Vocational and Technical High School, and that is also where his career nearly ended on two different occasions. On his first day, unable to control his unruly class, McCourt picks up a sandwich the students had been throwing and not knowing what else to do, he eats it. He is promptly caught in the act by his new boss, the principal, and is chastised for taking his lunch at 9:00 am. On his second day, an unruly student asks McCourt, who grew up in Ireland, if they dated girls in Ireland. McCourt, who was highly baffled by such a stupid question, responded that they don’t date girls in Ireland. They date sheep. His comment flooded the school with outraged parent phone calls. McCourt’s sarcastic remarks nearly ended his career, but they always earned him the respect of his class. The same unruly student was the one who coined the name Teacher Man for McCourt.
I found this memoir to be fascinating. I would recommend it to anyone looking for an out of the box read, because McCourt has an ability to turn a pathetic and seemingly boring story into an amusing and relatable reflection of life.
--by Samantha Matteucci