Friday, January 08, 2010

Why Frank McCourt is my Teacher Man

In years to come I will probably recall very little about the year 2009, except for the loss of one of the greatest writers I've ever seen. I'm talking about the passing of writer/teacher Frank McCourt, and here's why he's great.

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,

To Loren,
Teaching makes a difference!
Frank McCourt

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:
"A hand. So, mister. Wass you name?
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.
It's a hot moment. Teacher confesses ignorance and the class is shocked into silence. Off with the mask, teacher man, and what a relief. No more Mister Know-It-All." (130)

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...


jen said...

thank you for sharing this. i needed to read that he was 66 before he published his first book. just 26 years to go. =) there's hope for us all! i really did enjoy the video. happy new year, loren!

Putz said...

why do we have so much in common, some of the most tradject writing i have ever come on to>>>>>>> [2]our both mc court boy's books and their pathetic mother and ireland and those poor sodden opeopleles

Loren Christie said...

Happy New Year to you too, Jen and Mr. Putz. Mr. Putz, we both appreciate the masters like McCourt. I like reading your blog and comments because they remind me of how I was forced to read all of Chaucer's works in middle English in college. You have a cryptic style. :) Jen, when I was little girl I thought I would be a published author by 22. Now, like an unreturned library book, I'm about 13 years overdue. So yes, his age gives me hope too! He accomplished his dreams in the last ten years of his life.

Lori said...

Fabulous author, fabulous book. I taught an excerpt of this to my 10th graders. Love your blog, with its combination of family, photos, and info. Wonderful.

Loren Christie said...

Thank you again, Lori!

Anonymous said...

You have really great taste on catch article titles, even when you are not interested in this topic you push to read it

Anonymous said...

I read about it some days ago in another blog and the main things that you mention here are very similar

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


Loren Christie

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