April 02, 2007
Book Review: Teacher Man by Frank McCourt
On the airplane to Rome, and at night before bed, I read Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man. Having been a teacher I thought that I would appreciate the insights of this Teacher of the Year and memoirist author of Angela’s Ashes.
To say the least, I was rather disappointed. Although McCourt writes about teaching, and his own personal growth as one, he also spends undue time writing about his sexual conquests and infidelity. The conquests are irrelevant to the story other than as an opportunity for McCourt to say, “Look at me! I may be ugly, but women want to sleep with me!” It was so prideful and unnecessary that I nearly put the book down entirely.
However, I finished it so what follows is a list of the insights a prospective teacher might glean from this “Teacher of the Year”.
1. Having a depressing past is the best substitute for lack of ability in teaching.
2. Lack of ambition is a virtue.
3. One’s sexual conquests are relevant to how you teach.
4. Cynicism will get you respect from your students but not from your boss.
For all McCourt’s success as a teacher, he fails to impart any real wisdom to those who wish to follow in his footsteps. Perhaps some might argue that insights can be gleaned from this book, such as knowing one’s material, keeping things fresh, and using the tools and gifts already present in your students, but overall the reader is more likely to get the impression that one can only enjoy teaching if one is a cynic, has seen worse days, or simply coast through life.
I would not recommend this book to anyone seeking to become a better teacher. If you want to know how hard it is to be one, and don’t mind a lot of useless sidetracking, then by all means read it, but don’t expect to walk away with any fresh insights into what it means to be a teacher.
In fairness, I must mention that this is a memoir, not an attempt to impart wisdom to future teachers, and that McCourt does an excellent job in writing his story, but rather than encouraging the struggling or new teacher, he simply imparts the platitudes of the liberal education (whose success can be seen in all our failing schools and lack of knowledge of today’s young people, including myself) that every education major got from their professors from day one.
Although funny (in a cynical way) Teacher Man lacks any sort of greatness that will let it be enduring or a favorite among teachers. Readers will probably identify with McCourt’s struggles and problems of teaching, but will find no insights or helpfulness in the story. Enjoy it as a memoir, but expect nothing more than a story of cynicism and success couched as failure.