On Frank McCourt

My first job after college was as an AmeriCorps member in a school in North Philadelphia.  I knew I was going into a very challenging environment (all the students were 18-21, and had previously left high school), and I had zero teaching experience.

Perhaps this is absurd, but I’m glad that the only book that I read on teaching before entering the fray was Teacher Man by Frank McCourt.  McCourt’s writing worked for me because of the honesty of the voice with which he describes himself and his settings.  His voice may have been key to getting that first story told in Angela’s Ashes:

“After 20 pages of standard omniscient author, I wrote something that I thought was just a note to myself, about sitting on a seesaw in a playground, and I found my voice, the voice of a child,” he told The Providence Journal in 1997. “That was it. It carried me through to the end of the book” (NYTimes article).

What I like about McCourt is that he continued with that vulnerable voice in his memoirs about his adult life.  When reading Teacher Man I thought I was looking for practical teaching advice, but really I did not need someone to tell me wisdom gleaned from a teacher of the year, the zen of teaching, or twenty teaching best practices to survive at Broad and Girard.  I needed someone to write about confusion, about days when things didn’t work properly, about fears and worries.  McCourt muddled through and finally succeeded in teaching because he saw it as creative, and he succeeded as a writer because that lifetime of teaching only further developed his creative life.  If only we can all do the same.–Moira

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