Book: Teacher Man
Author: Frank McCourt
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Reviewer: Xolani Shezi
"I don't give a fiddler's fart," is Frank McCourt's famous saying. And you will certainly encounter it in his three books - Angela's Ashes since turned into a movie, 'Tis and Teacher Man.
The books are memoirs of the suffering he endured growing up in a deeply Catholic Ireland and how he escaped poverty in America as an English teacher with a strange Irish accent.
My advice: get all three books.
Once you do, I guarantee that you too will enlist as a fan. You too will come to terms with this one casual obscenity and accept it as you chuckle through his heavenly humorous writing.
In Teacher Man, McCourt adores his profession. He tries to find ways and means to make teaching interesting to his pupils. And he taught for 30 whole years in high schools and colleges in New York city.
McCourt leads us through the first day of his teaching career at McKee Vocational and Technical High School.
He describes how nervous he was and how he almost lost his job that day for eating a pupil's sandwich. Goodness.
Teacher Man relays how gum-chewing American pupils schemed to "kill time" and divert teachers from delivering lessons, including excuses to get a pass (to go to the toilet) until the bell rang and they were "outta there" in seconds, leaving teachers feeling worthless.
But McCourt seemed to enjoy rubbing his superiors up the wrong way. He was constantly called into the principal's office to explain his "ridiculous" teaching methods.
Believing that there were only two ways to capture the attention of the American teenager - sex and food - he once took his Catholic school creative writing pupils for a different vocabulary lesson in the park, without permission from the city management.
The pupils spread all sorts of food dishes on the grass.
And what was the lesson, you may ask.
Only McCourt knows. The book is equally obtuse. Everyone, including the cops, were puzzled.
During most of his teaching life he struggled to balance the practical side with academia.
In his heart, he yearned to be a professor; to quote famous scholars so he would sound clever and knowledgeable.
At the same time, he wanted to be a marvellous teacher.
My take on him is that he was insecure and lacked confidence.
McCourt is a gifted wordsmith who clowns through a painful story with poignancy, wit and charm. As you read his text, you're not sure whether to weep in sympathy or burst out laughing.