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Book Review

PUBLISHED: February 16, 2006

Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt. Scribner, November 2005. $26

Ah, the mystery of teaching. Or, rather, the mystery of why any college graduate would want to join this underpaid, overworked, and under appreciated profession in today’s United States. The litany of problems is well known: starting salaries that border on being non-living wages, rude and under prepared students, pushy parents, weak administrators, and poorly funded facilities. As McCourt puts it, “Teaching is the downstairs maid of the professions.” And yet, many of our best young people continue to go into teaching, armed with an optimism and innocence that carries them past the obvious problems to that place where they connect with young minds, see that look of recognition and growth as real learning occurs, and savor the moments when they know that one person can indeed make a difference. McCourt’s entry, even forty years ago, was tough, but the masterful combination of humor and storytelling that we have come to expect from the author of Angela’s Ashes and ’Tis enabled him to break through the resistance and connect with generations of students in New York. He tells an engaging story as he moves between his hardscrabble life as a boy in Limerick (some of which we already know from Angela’s Ashes) and his hardscrabble life as a teacher in Staten Island and Manhattan. Read this in conjunction with Mark Edmunson’s Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference, and ponder the mystery of why we seem to have better teachers than we deserve.
—David T. Gies

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