Book review: Teacher Man by Frank McCourt
I guess I should preface this by saying I am not a Frank McCourt fan. I bought Angela’s Ashes in Heathrow airport way back in college, for my return journey from my summer semester in London. This was long before any “buzz” about the book in the US... this must have been the summer of ’98, I think. Anywho. I read the book from London to Detroit. Upon landing, I was about half-way done. I stumbled off the plane, jet-lagged and bummed to be back in Michigan. And never picked up the book again. I had no curiosity about how things turned out for little Frank and family. I have long assumed that my complete lack of interest in finishing AA (which is pretty rare, I finish almost everything) was due to it being associated with my flight home; i.e., I really had a great summer in London and was coming back to my senior year in college and maybe I just didn’t want to be reminded of that flight. Or some weird psych rubbish-y thing like that. But after reading Teacher Man, I am now wondering if it was just because it was an annoyingly bad book.
So, going into Teacher Man, you could say I wasn’t a “fan.” Mildly curious/indifferent would be the best way to describe it. The book’s blurbs all talk about how inspirational it is... thirty years in NY public schools... the triumph of good teaching over bad environments... that sort of thing.
As far as I can tell, McCourt spent the first 15 years in vocational schools, where he had no control over the students and had no idea how to teach them. To compensate, he endlessly told them the stories of his horrible upbringing in Ireland. How does this relate to teaching the English language? It doesn’t. He was just wasting time... and not teaching anything significant to his students. After about 15 years of this nonsense, he got a job at a top-notch school where the students were motivated and college-bound. At this point, his “teaching” “takes off.” Mmmm.... here’s a little secret. It isn’t hard to teach kids that actually want to learn. You can put a chimp in a classroom of bright, motivated students (I know, having had several “chimp-like” teachers in HS where I knew more of the subject than they did... I just taught myself what I needed to know.).
And talk about whiney. *Shudder* The life of a teacher is not easy. I know that. They are under-paid and over-worked. But to hear McCourt tell it, digging ditches or working on the docks is more rewarding. The book is a litany of complaints about the hours, the parents, the students, the administration... I am not sure where the “inspiration” is in all this...
Ok, enough. I just had to get this all out of my system. :-) As you can all see, I would NOT recommend this book (Ha-- understatement of the year!). I am curious what the teachers in my book club will think about it (we have two). Do they agree? Sympathize? Wish he would shut the f*&% up? (Hee hee!)
All I can say is, our next book better be spectacular to make up for this one!