1. Voice - When I hear one of his books read aloud I immediately recognize his style. He is conversational, fluid, and effortlessly funny.
2. Style- I'm fascinated by the way he writes dialogue. He slides it into the paragraphs seamlessly without the use of quotes. How does he do that?
3. Truth- Here's a guy who is not afraid to let you watch him squirm in his memoirs and stumble his way through his spiritual journey as a Catholic. He was a great teacher who thought he was horrible. There is bravery in his transparency and a genuine sense of humility.
4. His "Irish Rap" (watch the U-Tube video below)
Known best for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Angela's Ashes, McCourt was an English teacher in New York public schools for thirty years prior to his writing success. I wish I could have read Teacher Man, his third book, when I was new at the profession, but it was not published until 2005. In it McCourt captures the feelings and struggles of every classroom teacher.
I love this book as much as Angela's Ashes because it resonates with me on several levels, being a former English teacher, a Catholic and a New Yorker. His experiences in the classroom and the humorous ways he reflects on his interaction with students is so enjoyable to read.
In the late 1990's, when my husband was an undergraduate student in college, he saw Frank McCourt lecture and gave me a signed copy of Angela's Ashes. On the front page the author wrote,
Teaching makes a difference!
I'm sure that my husband told him that I was a new teacher at that time. The written message seemed cliche until I finished reading Teacher Man. Throughout the book, McCourt feels like he is a failure, despite how hard he works to be a good instructor. Teacher Man should be required reading for college students taking education courses. This book is more helpful than my entire student teaching experience. McCourt dissects the day-to-day challenges of the classroom like no adolescent psychology, or methods of education textbook can.
Here is an excerpt:
I write on the board MR. McCOURT, and pronounce it.
Hey Mister, You Jewish?
Alla teachers in this school Jewish. How come you not Jewish?
I don't know.
They look surprised, even astonished, and the look travels the room. The look says, You hear that Miquel? Teacher up there, he don't know.
Teacher Man shows McCourt's thought process through every challenge a teacher faces, from the classroom bully to interactions with his bosses. McCourt says he did not write books while he was working because he did not have the time. So he leaves us only with three that he wrote in retirement: Angela's Ashes, Tis and Teacher Man. Three memoirs and his voice lives forever, that's great writing.
Below McCourt talks about his teaching career...