Recap: What happens when you teach high school English and creative writing for thirty years and then write a bestselling memoir? Well, then you write another memoir — a book about your life as a teacher. At least that’s what Frank McCourt did. Best known for his award-winning memoir Angela’s Ashes and Tis, Frank McCourt set out to write another memoir about his teaching days in Teacher Man.
McCourt was born in America, but spent much of his childhood in Ireland. He then moved back to the States, where he was drafted to serve in the Korean War. But upon his return from the war, he went to New York University to study English, and so begins his professional journey. He spent the next thirty years hopping from high school to high school in New York City, teaching English, English as a Second Language, and Creative Writing to some of the city’s least well-off and least motivated teens and to some of the most well-off and most motivated, like those at Stuyvesant High School.
His failed marriage and failed degree prove that he has problems like everyone else. McCourt admits through his writing that he’s no hero. In fact, he finds himself surprised to learn that he’s had such an impact on some of his students’ lives. But he does. In Teacher Man, McCourt shares the stories of his teachings to these students, the relationship he had with them, and the bond between a teacher and his class. He teaching methods are not necessarily the most logical, like the time he took a class of predominantly African-American females to a production of Hamlet. They’re also not the most well-received by his bosses, like the time he turned his students’ forged excuse notes into a writing assignment.
But it’s the thank yous from those students later on that make his time in the classroom worth it. He recognizes that later in life, his former students will likely forget his name, but hopes they won’t forget his role in their lives.
Analysis: Frank McCourt’s straightforward and honest writing style help the memoir flow easily from anecdote to anecdote, teaching lesson to teaching lesson. McCourt may not know it — or maybe he absolutely does — but in the same way he’s teaching his students, he’s also teaching his readers; not about English or Creative Writing, but about life, about the relationships we have with people, about the importance of profession versus your family and friends. McCourt’s professional life story helps put things in perspective in a way only a “Teacher Man” could.