Excerpt from Teacher Man by Frank McCourt, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Teacher Man

A Memoir

by Frank McCourt

Teacher Man
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2005, 272 pages
    Sep 2006, 272 pages

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You think you'll walk into the classroom, stand a moment, wait for silence, watch while they open notebooks and click pens, tell them your name, write it on the board, proceed to teach.

On your desk you have the English course of study provided by the school. You'll teach spelling, vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension, composition, literature.

You can't wait to get to the literature. You'll have lively discussions about poems, plays, essays, novels, short stories. The hands of one hundred and seventy students will quiver in the air and they'll call out, Mr. McCourt, me, me, I wanna say something.

You hope they'll want to say something. You don't want them to sit gawking while you struggle to keep a lesson alive.

You'll feast on the bodies of English and American literature. What a time you'll have with Carlyle and Arnold, Emerson and Thoreau. You can't wait to get to Shelley, Keats and Byron and good old Walt Whitman. Your classes will love all that romanticism and rebellion, all that defiance. You'll love it yourself, because, deep down and in your dreams, you're a wild romantic. You see yourself on the barricades.

Principals and other figures of authority passing in the hallways will hear sounds of excitement from your room. They'll peer through the door window in wonder at all the raised hands, the eagerness and excitement on the faces of these boys and girls, these plumbers, electricians, beauticians, carpenters, mechanics, typists, machinists.

You'll be nominated for awards: Teacher of the Year, Teacher of the Century. You'll be invited to Washington. Eisenhower will shake your hand. Newspapers will ask you, a mere teacher, for your opinion on education. This will be big news: A teacher asked for his opinion on education. Wow. You'll be on television.


Imagine: A teacher on television.

They'll fly you to Hollywood, where you'll star in movies about your own life. Humble beginnings, miserable childhood, problems with the church (which you bravely defied), images of you solitary in a corner, reading by candlelight: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens. You there in the corner blinking with your poor diseased eyes, bravely reading till your mother pulls the candle away from you, tells you if you don't stop the two eyes will fall out of your head entirely. You plead for the candle back, you have only a hundred pages left in Dombey and Son, and she says, No, I don't want to be leading you around Limerick with people asking how you went blind when a year ago you were kicking a ball with the best of them.

You say yes to your mother because you know the song:

A mother's love is a blessing
No matter where you go
Keep her while you have her
You'll miss her when she's gone. 

Besides, you could never talk back to a movie mother played by one of those old Irish actresses, Sarah Allgood or Una O'Connor, with their sharp tongues and their suffering faces. Your own mother had a powerful hurt look, too, but there's nothing like seeing it on the big screen in black and white or living color.

Your father could be played by Clark Gable except that a) he might not be able to handle your father's North of Ireland accent and b) it would be a terrible comedown from Gone With the Wind, which, you remember, was banned in Ireland because, it is said, Rhett Butler carried his own wife, Scarlett, up the stairs and into bed, which upset the film censors in Dublin and caused them to ban the film entirely. No, you'd need someone else as your father because the Irish censors would be watching closely and you'd be badly disappointed if the people in Limerick, your city, and the rest of Ireland were denied the opportunity of seeing the story of your miserable childhood and subsequent triumph as teacher and movie star.

Copyright © 2005 by Green Peril Corp.

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