photo & text by nacrowe
i read the classic education memoir TEACHER MAN (SCRIBNER, 2005) by FRANK MCCOURT back when i was student teaching at BROOKLYN TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL as part of my masters program at COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY. MCCOURT is of course the renowned PULITZER PRIZE winning author of ANGELA'S ASHES (SCRIBNER, 1996), a memoir of his childhood in IRELAND, but what most people don't know is that he was an educator. he taught for years at STUYVESANT HIGH SCHOOL in MANHATTAN, a public specialized magnet secondary institution considered by most the crown jewel of the NEW YORK public school system and has a pretty incredible list of NOBEL PRIZE laureates (more than most universities).
enough of all that though. what spoke out to me about TEACHER MAN at the time was that he went into detail about what an abject failure of an educator he started out as. how unprepared he was. how clueless he was about basic procedures and ideas regarding pedagogy.
at COLUMBIA there was just this constant barrage of information being thrown my way of at times competing ideologies regarding how a classroom should be modeled and what an effective assessment consists of. it was only later that i realized that they did this so that we are aware of our options as professionals and to choose such wisely based on our situation and the needs of our students. at the time i was at BROOKLYN TECH this overload of information wasn't helpful, but TEACHER MAN was. it gave me the idea the confidence that i would get better, that this was all part of the process and that i just needed to be open and self-aware of my options as my experience increased. i needed to make mistakes. for me that message was the real gift of this book. it gave me confidence.
i should also mention that MCCOURT was from LIMERICK. my ancestral hometown is in LIMERICK, specifically a nearby village called CAPPAWHITE. like my relatives he is a born storyteller. perfect for an english teacher.
funny enough after BROOKLYN TECH (and a brief tenure at my alma mater in KUWAIT) i found myself teaching at STUYVESANT. even at a hallowed institution like there where experienced teachers are let go having not been able to pass muster, my attitude never shifted. i gave myself permission to fail. in fact that permission followed me to ALBANIA, VENEZUELA, JAPAN and MYANMAR during my career and informed my ability to self-assess in the moment and make changes without fear. i found myself in fluid situations in unfamiliar cultures with shifting institutional parameters and it was always a challenge to find ways of pushing my students and addressing their needs. i attribute that confidence and self-awareness to reading MCCOURT's sober assessments of his own short-fallings as an educator and how he used such to fuel his passion for education. it was incredibly self-empowering.
and to be given the opportunity to work in the same department that MCCOURT once did was a true gift and honor that i still appreciate to this day.
anyway, great book. worth your time.