Teacher Man: A Memoir

by Frank McCourt

Hardcover, 2005




Simon & Schuster (2005)


In this tribute to teachers everywhere. McCourt records the trials, triumphs and surprises he faces in public high schools around New York City. His methods anything but conventional, McCourt creates a lasting impact on his students through imaginative assignments, singalongs and field trips. As he struggles to find his way in the classroom, he spends his evenings drinking with writers and dreaming of one day putting his own story to paper. The book shows McCourt developing his ability to tell a great story as he works to gain the attention and respect of unruly or indifferent adolescents. His rocky marriage, his failed attempt to get a Ph.D. at Trinity College, Dublin, and his repeated firings due to his propensity to talk back to his superiors ironically lead him to New York's most prestigious school, Stuyvesant High School, where he finally finds a place and a voice.--From publisher description.… (more)

Media reviews

Yes, Frank McCourt, the author of "Angela's Ashes" and " 'Tis," has done it again - distilled from the mash of his life a strong and alluring narrative brew. You start reading, one story leads to the next, and all of a sudden two hours have passed.
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At the very least, McCourt has produced a collection of aphorisms that will grace classroom posters till the last red pen runs dry. ("You'd be better off as a cop. At least you'd have a gun or a stick to defend yourself. A teacher has nothing but his mouth.") And at most, he's described the teacher
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we all wish we'd had.
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Pubisher's Weekly
McCourt's many fans will of course love this book, but it should also be mandatory reading for every teacher in America. And it wouldn't hurt some politicians to read it, too.
McCourt pays deep homage to the three decades he spent teaching English...punctuated by moments of crisis, connection and transcendence.
Kirkus Reviews
The same dark humor, lyric voice and gift for dialogue are apparent here....The teaching profession's loss is the reading public's gain, entirely.

User reviews

LibraryThing member pickoftheliterate
McCourt is known and loved, apparently, for Angela’s Ashes, a memoir about his Irish mother. After reading Teacher Man, I have to conclude that the well has run dry on the memoir front for this writer.

McCourt has an affable, lyrical voice and is very honest, even when it reveals him warts and
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all. Yet there is just not much of a story here. I picked it up thinking that I was going to read an inspiring story of an Irish immigrant teaching inner-city kids in New York City about the power of books and writing. Although there are occasional glimmers along these lines, instead you’re left feeling that you’ve read the autobiography of a mediocre schoolteacher who basically advanced from being useless to marginally adequate. How underwhelming!

I can’t imagine that this book would have been published if it weren’t written by someone who already had a best-seller under his belt.
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LibraryThing member dczapka
I love Frank McCourt because his style is so warm and inviting: even when he's writing about the most heartbreaking events, like in Angela's Ashes, you can't resist turning the page over and over.

So it is with Teacher Man, in which we get perhaps not quite "the best self-portrait of a public school
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teacher ever written," but an exquisitely detailed and appropriately cynical memoir of a man finding his way in his profession and his life.

The characterization is spot-on, the stories endlessly entertaining. And most comforting of all, McCourt gives off the sense of a man that should be as world-weary as any ever born, but is not -- and is, instead, appreciative and receptive of all he's seen.

A great treatise on life, on education, and on learning that the two can never be mutually exclusive.
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LibraryThing member allysther
A nice follow up to his previous books. He obviously enjoyed his work, and had a positive effect on his students.
LibraryThing member parrot_person
Each of McCourt's published memoirs has gotten progressively worse. Angela's Ashes was quite good -- engaging and touching, if possibly not entirely accurate. 'Tis had promise but was clearly rushed out the door by an overeager publisher (the last third or so was sketched rather than written).
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Teacher Man is -- well, it's just not that good. The pointedly Irish mannerisms that were charming in Angela's Ashes and tolerable in 'Tis here come off as grating. McCourt has become a persona rather than a person.

Teacher Man starts off rambling, in unremarkable language, about McCourt's success as a writer, and then proceeds to flash back to his teaching days in New York City. McCourt writes with a wink and a nudge about what a terrible teacher he was. His audience (and he does perform as though for an audience, rather than write for a readership) is expected to heartily disagree with him and affirm that he was a wonderful, if zany, shepherd of children.

This audience member didn't much feel like clapping when presented with his incompetence.

There are a few interesting stories here if you can tolerate the story-teller. I was particularly moved by the student who, growing up in the teeming city, wanted to be a farmer. It's telling that McCourt only found out about the student's ambition years later, when meeting him by accident on the street.
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LibraryThing member alaskabookworm
An enjoyable account of how a bumbling immigrant becomes a teacher. McCourt explores the difficulties of teaching, and its joys. As a result, he grows and passes on wisdom.
LibraryThing member TanyaTomato
This man is so real and wonderful. He knows how to evoke feelings in a story that sounds perfectly mundane, but is actually fantastically interesting. He doesn't hide anything and I love every one of his books.
LibraryThing member Pregnant-reader
I read this book very quickly over winter break and I enjoyed the first 2/3 of it, but found the end to be quite weak as McCourt begins with tales of horror and struggle and settles into accounts of his adoring students and easy, fun teaching.
LibraryThing member ninawills
I was delighted to find this book at Borders, mainly coz I’ve read his other two, Angela’s Ashes and Tis. McCourt is the kind of author who test your patience. He’s not the kind who throws too many things at you in the first three chapters, almost challenging you to put it down if you
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didn’t have enough faith in him. But should you persevere, you will be duly rewarded, for McCourt is a late bloomer, as he would tell his readers repeatedly. You’d think that there’s no hope for him as he laments his string of misfortunes, one of it having to be born Irish, but rising above and beyond all stereotype and eventually making his mark as an accomplished author.

McCourt doesn’t write fiction, at least I have come to conclude. He writes his memoirs, his childhood growing up in Limerick though he was born in New York. Returning to America, he was cast as an outsider, a bitter irony that he resented deeply though that did not stop him. He finally became an English teacher, teaching high school kids about a language that they have taken for granted. If that wasn’t hard enough he had teenage angst, rebellion and lack of ambition to contend with. But McCourt pulled through and there were many moments in this book that reaffirmed his career choice, for like his students, he knows what it feels like to be a misfit, never quite blending into the background and finding that everything is one big struggle.

I took this book with me when I went away for work. Since I had many moments to myself, I found myself easily drawn into McCourt’s world. I saw him working at the docks to pay through his college education. I felt like I was in his class when he was trying to describe sentence structure aided by a ballpoint pen. I wished I was there when his students read recipes from cookbooks to the tune of various musical instruments, thus a reading of Eggs Benedict was elevated into an opus of some kind.

Read this if you’re a McCourt fan, or if you’re a teacher wanting a shot of inspiration. Or simply if like McCourt, you’re a tough mick trying to make it through but finding it hard and the whole world is against you. McCourt doesn’t use big words, or vague analogies to drive his message. Instead they’re everyday scenes, proving that greatness is achieved not through ingenuity or that rare streak of talent, but through sheer perseverance and finding inspiration in ourselves and within each other.
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LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
Well, I suppose part of my problem with this book was that I had extremely high expectations. I'd been told by various friends to read it, and there's a quote on the dust jacket from Billy Collins saying that all teachers and politians should read it. Beyond that, there's a note on the inside of
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the dustjacket that mentions some of McCourt's classroom activities as an example of the unique creative classroom exercises he engages in. Let's discuss those first. First, this is like one of those movies where they put all the funniest parts in the preview--there may be one or two exercises mentioned in the book that the dustjacket doesn't mention...but I'm not even sure there are that many. Next problem: with at least some of those so-called exercises, he writes that he didn't really know where he was going with them. Either they were spur of the moment decisions, or things that suddenly seemed like interesting ideas, though he didn't know where they'd lead the class. First of all, as a student, I would have been horrified by this. I don't mind not being entirely clear on why I'm doing something in a class, but I certainly expect the teacher to have a masterplan and goal. McCourt presents some of his most interesting exercises as a combination of busywork or lucky chances that ended up leading somewhere...though he didn't originally realize he would. As a teacher, I just don't find this acceptable. There are times when I'm not sure whether an assignment will work--that comes with being creative--but I always believe it will be beneficial to the students, and I could easily articulate why at any time.

This leads into what is probably more of an issue for me personally. I hoped to learn something from this book; at the least, I expected to be impressed by another teacher. Instead, I was disappointed. McCourt's overly cynical attitude (from the beginning of his career) would be the last way I'd want an "exemplary" teacher to be portrayed. I have a great deal of respect for my own profession and for the teachers I know, and I'll tell you--most of us became teachers because we wanted to, not because we didn't know what else to do with ourselves. It may be hard work, but we Enjoy it. This might be an amusing book for teachers to read, and may well be familiar at times, but it is far from inspiring or a picture of someone I'd look to as a mentor. As for politicians, it certainly could do some good for them to see in the classroom. But for my part, I don't think things will change if they get the idea that all teachers are like McCourt.

In any case, I'm sure that this is a wonderful book...if you're the right audience. For me, it took a long time to get through even though it is extremely readable and at moments engaging. It is a quick read--I just got so frustrated with McCourt and his character at times, that I simply had to put the book down and find reading elsewhere.
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LibraryThing member dimestorenovel
I love McCourt's stories. Teacher man is not as good as 'Tis, which I loved (but I lost the book in an airport in Spain), or Angela's Ashes. Nonetheless, a fun and interesting read. He makes me smile. That may seem simple...but it takes ALOT to make me smile.
LibraryThing member Jeffrey414
I enjoyed McCourt's "Teacher Man." I had an unusual thought reading "Teacher Man" considering recent books we have read, I wish this one was longer! More stories! More anecdotes! This book tells of both humorous and touching stories from his 30 years of teaching in New York City schools. Recipes
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read to music, field trips to the theater, writing excuse notes to God, and those lovely parent conferences. I appreciated the fact that he apparently threw out any direction, instruction, or rules learned from or given by his administrators and colleagues and just learned to be himself in the classroom. Amazingly he was not fired early in his career for some now humorous discretion!

From another review, "McCourt throws down the gauntlet on education, asserting that teaching is more than achieving high test scores. It's about educating, about forming intellects, about getting people to think." And from his own book, "I was uncomfortable with the bureaucrats, the higher-ups, who had escaped classrooms only to turn and bother the occupants of those classrooms, teachers and students. I never wanted to fill out their forms, follow their guidelines, administer their examinations, tolerate their snooping, adjust myself to their programs and courses of study." Sadly, I get the notion that this process took him half of his teaching career. I enjoyed the way he connected with some challenging and difficult students. He seems like the kind of teacher we all would have wanted at one point in our education, however, having all teachers like him would be difficult as well. It is clear that we need teachers of all talents, interests, and passions. Many times McCourt's lessons reminded me of Mark Twain's quote, "Never let schooling interfere with your education!"

The book jacket quote indicates this is a book to be read by teachers and politicians . . . add school administrators and Board of Regent's members to that list. McCourt might agree with the quote from critics of the No Child Left Behind legislation requiring more testing. "The drill and kill curriculum that accompanies high-stakes, one-size-fits-all testing programs undermines rather than improves the quality of education," explained Dr. Neill. "Once again, independent data demonstrate that the nation cannot test its way to educational quality. It's time to abandon the failed test-and-punish quick fix and get on with the hard work of identifying the real causes of student learning problems, then addressing them effectively. Congress should follow the lead of the more than 60 national education, civil rights and religious organizations that have come together to call for an overhaul of this damaging federal law." Some things students learn in school just cannot be objectively tested. I think the book will leave most readers wanting more stories from his years at Stuyvesant High School. Perhaps McCourt's next book?
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LibraryThing member eileenmary
It was ok. I don't care for stream of conciousness type of writing that much.
LibraryThing member Clueless
Hysterical account of his inimitable teaching style. If only more teachers were this daring in showing how much they love their subject. Students respond to passion, no matter how wacky.
LibraryThing member bibliobibuli
What I appreciate most about the book is its honesty. McCourt details both his successes and failures in the classroom, including the kind of embarassments most teachers would want to downplay even to those closest to them.

McCourt bemoans the fact that his teacher-training course did not prepare
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him at all for the realities of the classroom. But there's no-one-size- fits-all-quick-fix for teachers that you can pass on in training, and it takes time and hard-won experience to find out who you are in the classroom. (Took me years and much pain.) McCourt lays out his own personal journey for us, detailing nearly 30 years of teaching in American high-schools and eventually discovering that his stock of stories about growing up in Ireland was his greatest classroom resource. That and the kind of quirky imagination that dreams up assignments like getting students to write their own excuse notes and obituaries!

And empathy. Of course, empathy. What teacher can survive without it? McCourt has bucket loads of it.

I'd love to see this book made compulsory reading on all teacher training courses, but the book is a damn good read even if you don't have a particular interest in things pedagogic. It's beautifully written, moving and funny by turn.

Would you expect anything less from the author of Angela's Ashes?
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LibraryThing member arisam
At first, I enjoyed reading this book. Mr. McCourt's way of teaching was funny and interesting. A Sandwich Situation (chapter 2) was especially funny. But I lost my interest at last. It was because all chapters had similar stories. And Mr. McCourt was negative.
LibraryThing member Djupstrom
I was hesitant to read another book by Frank McCourt because I didn't want to ruin my opinion of his writng...nothing could top Angela's Ashes! This book proved me wrong. It might be because I too am an English Teacher, but I truly loved this book.
LibraryThing member estellen
McCourt's follow-ups to Angela's Ashes are, by his own admittance, not the best works he's produced. But I still liked it, for different reasons than Angela's Ashes. Still charming and very human.
LibraryThing member sleepydumpling
More of Frank McCourt's wonderful work. He has a real knack of being able to make very complex prose sound and feel very simple to the reader. His ability to tell stories that stick in one's mind is surpassed by none I feel. Some great belly laughs, some food for thought and some poignant moments.
LibraryThing member Mrs.Stansbury
If you want to be a teacher you'll want to pick this up. McCourt may not be you but what he talks about in regards to struggles teachers go through and the joys are universal and timeless. We still have these students walking in the halls of our schools. I saw my own teaching style in McCourt's
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methods he shares with us in these pages and got good ideas for teaching too. Moreover it gave me a shot of good juju for the upcoming teaching year.
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LibraryThing member towncalledmalice
Really liked this esp. the way he couldn't get down to do the phd in Trinity and kept putting it off but did have index cards. Good insight into teaching.
LibraryThing member dcriss1
A mosaic of stories from McCourt's life as a high school teacher. I could relate to some of his foibles and insights into the classroom, but was bored by the absence of cohesiveness. A worthwhile read, a great glimpse into the real lives of high school teachers.
LibraryThing member johnvb
If you are preparing to be, are or have been a middle or high school teacher, you should read this. Every thought Frank McCourt had in the classroom belonged to me at one time or another in the classroom during 11 years. His self deprecating humor as well as his insecurity about how he is viewed by
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administrators, students and parents provided assurance that this is not uncommon among teachers. His view that a teacher must to his own self be true is oh so valid. Wanting to be like the teacher in the next room who has everyone sitting up straight, teaching a black and white lesson, spoon-feeding the thoughts you want regurgitated on a test was never McCourt's style and never mine. I can really identify with Frank McCourt and am ever so glad I read his book.
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LibraryThing member ilovebooksdlk
Frank McCourt writes about his experiences as a teacher in the New York Public School System. Through his experiences in several public high schools, we watch him slowly gain insight into what teaching really means and how his students have shaped the man he's become. McCourt is a brilliant
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memoirist: funny, authentic, honest.
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LibraryThing member jrahr1
A must read for all those who teach or think they want too.
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
Well, this was a pleasant enough read, and after a few months' break from the reading it was a good way to get back in. Here, McCourt describes his long career in teaching in America. It's interesting, and there are enough details to satisfy teachers who want to try out some of his own techniques.
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I wasn't entirely happy with the style of his writing - somehow it seemed patronising and preachy even when McCourt was describing his own failures.
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Audie Award (Finalist — 2007)



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