Despite what every student wants to believe, teachers are real people, and live relatively similar lives to that of our own. They get up every day and go to school, come home with a ton of work, and can’t wait for the weekend to begin. As unbelievable as it may seem, there really isn’t a huge gap separating teachers and students.
In his third memoir, Teacher Man, Frank McCourt shows this as he lives the life of both a teacher and a student. McCourt has written two prior memoirs, Angela’s Ashes (a Pulitzer Prize Winner) and ‘Tis, but he feels that his experiences as a teacher weren’t given enough consideration and they deserve more of an explanation, because teaching is no ordinary profession.
McCourt never thought much of himself and never thought that he would be passing on his knowledge to the next generation.
In the prologue of his newest memoir, McCourt says that teachers aren’t given enough consideration, or regarded with the respect they deserve for shaping young lives. The single acts they perform are only remembered by the teacher, as what they were able to do that day with those young vulnerable minds, and then they too begin to forget as time goes by.
The book begins on his first official day of teaching, at McKee Vocational and Technical High School, and like most starting a new job, he was incredibly nervous. But he was nervous more than most, having no idea what he was doing in the classroom in the first place. He almost got fired on his first day for eating a sandwich, and was almost fired his second day for making a comment about sheep. McCourt was off to rocky start, but would soon feel more comfortable in the classroom than anywhere else.
Good communication skills are essential for becoming a teacher, and battling to get and keep the attention of teenagers for forty-five minutes is a difficult mission in itself, but McCourt had another issue that kept him behind in this area. Once again, being Irish was not a good thing, along with all the prejudice he received from others about being a ‘’crazy no-good drinking Irish fool’’, he also had to bridge the accent barrier so his students could understand him, especially since he was an English teacher.
McCourt shares with his students his experiences growing up in Ireland and the brainwashed education that blamed the English for everything, his struggles when he first came to America, and the education he recieved at New York University through the G.I. Bill, even though he never went to high school. His prior educational experience taught him the “do’s and don’ts” of teaching by what he could pick up from his professors and schoolmasters. There was no need to pick up a student by his sideburns until he cried because he couldn’t pick the direct and indirect objects in a sentence; nor did he need to lecture a class on something they didn’t understand at all, test them on it, fail them, and have a fling with one of your students all before the semester was over.
Even though the book is based on events that occurred years ago, it really shows that what goes on inside the classroom hasn’t changed much. The incessant chit-chat, complaints about not wanting to read a book that is either too old, or too long, or both, and then relishing in the glory of another story from the teacher, postponing yet another lesson. No textbook or college course could have prepared him for the chaos a modern classroom can deliver -- McCourt told stories to not only keep his students quiet, but to keep their attention on something (and maybe even learn from his past), since teaching the curriculum didn’t seem to hold anyone’s attention, even his own.
I sometimes read this book during school hours, and noticed how some things have not changed and oddly enough things that were occuring in the book at the time I was reading it were also happening in the classroom I was in. In Teacher Man, Mc- Court reminded one of his students to read Gilgamesh for an upcoming test, and the student to whom he was speaking replied by saying that the World Literature textbook in which the work was found was too big for him to carry. Just as I finished reading this comment, a student in my English class complained of the over-sized textbook (if only the world were smaller).