‘Teacher Man’ Frank McCourt – Role Model for those Entering Education Profession
The latest Internet spin-off site, The Awl, has noted that 2009 is well on its way to being a record year for a few mythical figures: the Rain Gods and the Grim Reaper.
Here in the northeast we cannot quibble. It has been a phenomenal year for the Rain Gods.
And nationally the death toll seems to be matching serve. Without a doubt, after the recent passings of Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite and Frank McCourt, it would seem that 2009 is shaping up to be an phenomenal year for the Grim Reaper as well.
Pulitzer Prize Winning Author and Teacher
While the deaths of Jackson and Cronkite have dominated the news cycles, the passing of McCourt surely ranks as another noteworthy loss. The author of Angela’s Ashes earned literary stardom late in life, receiving the Pulitzer Prize for his heartfelt memoir of his Irish-Catholic upbringing.
The author was also a teacher who plied his trade in New York. McCourt later revealed some great tales regarding that time in his life in yet another strong work, Teacher Man.
One of the most referred to stories in the book features the true brilliance that embodies McCourt and the best of the teaching profession: the ability to make a relevant lesson plan. In this instance, McCourt returns to his students some of the excuse notices that he has received, the very notes they forged in an effort to pull the wool over the old man’s eyes.
Understanding that following up on such notes would require near 24-hour-a-day vigilance, he instead collects the notes before one day he has an epiphany. Though forged, the notes represented a piece of creative writing from his charges, a treasure trove of fiction and fantasy that could serve as a catalyst to some great writing.
One day, McCourt typed out roughly a dozen of the notes he had received and distributed them to his senior classes. After the students read them silently, McCourt informed them they were about to become the first class to “study the art of the excuse note.”
He tells them one day they may well need to construct excuse notes for their own children. McCourt instructs them:
“Imagine you have a 15-year-old who needs an excuse for falling behind in English. Let it rip.”
The results were so astonishing, a “rhapsody of excuses” so brilliant, so creative, and so exciting that even the students liked what they were doing. They wanted more. McCourt was able to deliver once again.
He asked them to write excuse notes of mythical proportions: ‘An Excuse Note from Adam to God’ or ‘An Excuse Note from Eve to God.’ Not only did students come to class the next day with their homework done, they had taken the lead, one bringing in Lucifer and another young lady who simply claimed she was tired of God sticking his nose into other people’s business.
Those notes promptly created heated discussions of guilt and sinfulness and that perhaps God could “have been more understanding of the plight of the first man and woman.” So enthralled were the students that McCourt kept going, throwing other names up on the blackboard, and asking the students to write a good excuse note for some historical figures: Eva Braun, Judas, Attila the Hun, Lee Harvey Oswald and Al Capone.
Not too surprisingly, at that point one student wanted to know if McCourt could put the names of certain teachers on the board.
If You Are Thinking of Teaching
The story reveals a special trait that great teachers embody: a full understanding that to get students interested, one first has to first reach them where they are at.
If he could, he had the chance to do great things, to then take them someplace they would never have gone on their own. Ultimately, McCourt doesn’t just get these kids to review the notes they forged (oh my, what lessons were never discussed), he takes them on the creative journey of a lifetime.
For those considering teaching as a profession, Teacher Man is a must read. The author certainly was someone to emulate.
And with McCourt’s passing, one can’t help but wonder how his charges might handle this news, what they might pen for a note these days. No doubt, many would seek to chastise the Grim Reaper for taking their ‘teacher man’ so soon.