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Bookmarks Issue: 
21-Mar-Apr-2006
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A Memoir

A-TeacherMan"Mr. McCourt, you’re lucky," a student once told him. "You had that miserable childhood, so you have something to write about." He also had something to teach about. McCourt described his hardscrabble Irish childhood and Americanization in the Pulitzer Prize–winning Angela’s Ashes (1996) and ’Tis (1999); here he chronicles his 30 years teaching English in New York’s public schools, which transformed him from an insecure educator into an innovative, unconventional role model. Relating his own life stories to those of Tom Sawyer and Holden Caulfield, McCourt encouraged students to do the same: they wrote "excuse notes" from Adam and Eve to God and performed cookbook-recipe recitals. Teacher Man chronicles the joys, challenges, and growth McCourt experienced as he came to understand his students—and himself.
Scribner. 272 pages. $26. ISBN: 0743243773

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"One way [to survive a teaching career] was by telling poignant, often amusing stories about his struggles growing up, both to hold students’ attention and to inspire them to open up. … Mr. McCourt’s fans, along with every teacher in America, will love this book." Elizabeth Bennett

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Teacher Man is, in fact, the best book in the trilogy, an enthralling work of autobiographical storytelling. … There is a more self-scrutiny in this book than in McCourt’s previous ones, but his literary technique is still prone to comic schtick and manic stream-of-consciousness reveries, developing insights through controlled irony." Phillip Lopate

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"Happily, this book lacks the uncomplicated moments of pedagogical triumph we’ve become accustomed to through movies like Stand and Deliver. … Teacher Man is a rare and privileged glimpse of the classroom; few people with McCourt’s teaching experience also possess his story-telling gifts, so we almost never see the school day so perceptively, often uncomfortably, rendered." Liza Featherstone

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Teacher Man is a fascinating book, an insider’s look at education, an ultimately optimistic book about possibility for both teachers and students." Curt Schleier

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The last 50 pages of Frank McCourt’s third memoir, Teacher Man … is as good as writing gets about teaching and learning and finding yourself through writing. … One life, no matter how miserable or redemptive, is a lot to hang three books on." Bob Minzesheimer

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"But what McCourt wants more than respect, more even than seeing his students learn to read more analytically and write more persuasively, is for them to like him. … As deeply as I abhor the test-driven atmosphere that’s turning schools into reenactments of Hard Times, I couldn’t shake my skepticism of the antics that McCourt celebrates." Ron Charles

Christian Science Monitor 1.5 of 5 Stars
"After so many pages of McCourt’s sometimes inexplicable self-loathing, I found myself, begrudgingly, disliking him nearly as much as he seems to have disliked himself." TERESA MÉndez

Boston Globe 0.5 of 5 Stars
"Alas, McCourt has already poured his best childhood material into Angela’s Ashes, so here, he serves up the dregs. … What results is a book that fails as both an account of McCourt’s teaching and of his life." Brendan Halpin

Critical Summary

The pathos McCourt created in his first two memoirs just may be wearing thin. While some critics thought Teacher Man focused, fresh, and exciting, others saw a self-deprecating author at work, his prose littered with clichés. No doubt Teacher Man is darkly entertaining: what other teacher during class would ask children to write suicide notes or describe their own murderous thoughts? But too many anecdotes about McCourt’s childhood, sexual adventures, and marriage (all found in his previous books) often disembody his poignant, life-learning teaching experiences from their context. Still, the memoir rings true for teachers in its depictions of daily classroom trials, and McCourt’s honesty and storytelling gifts remain unsurpassed.