Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Up the Down Staircase

Why don't you use one of those Barnes & Noble or Borders' gift certificates you just received and treat yourself to a picture of a NY public school circa 1960. I first read Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman (Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1964) as a teenager. Recently, my teenage daughter Lydia, brought the familiar pink and orange book home from the library after reading about it in Now, all we need is a Title. Kaufman's insights into the labyrinth of rules which teachers daily negotiate as well as the voices of the adolescents (who are the reason that teachers keep teaching) are timeless.

Written as an epistolary novel, the office memos, intraschool communications, and students' comments from the class "Suggestion Box," etc., show a novice English teacher's struggles between her desire to reach her students or the pull to accept a more comfortable university position. Here are some snippets to entice you into reading the entire book:

From the Suggestion Box (spelling & grammar are as they appear in the book). These are in answer to the question, "What did you get out of English so far?"

"What I got out of it is Litterature and Books. Also some Potery. And just before a test—a doze of English. Having Boys in class dis-tracks me from my English. Better luck next time." (p.74)

"I hate to think back on all my English years except one teacher I will never forget because when my note book wasn't so good (it was mostly in pencil) instead of telling me to do it over in ink she just told me to put renforcements on the holes and that will be enough. The next day she asked me did I put renforcements in. When I said I did she didn't even look she just said she'd take my word for it. That gave me a warm feeling inside because it was the first time a teacher took a pupil's word without asking to see if it was true. Most the of the time they don't even know your name." (pp 74-75)

"Dribs and Drabs. McBeth one week Moby Dick next, a quotation mark, oral debates on Should Parents be Strict? Should Girls Wear Jeans? The mistakes I made in elementery school I still make. I hope to achieve correction." (p. 80)

"I want to thank you for giving me your time after school, for encouraging me to write, for trying. But with 40 others in the class, whose problems are so different, I realize how little you can do, and I feel we are both wasted."(p. 114)

And on integration (p.212):

1. How stupid can you get?

  1. Bussing kids to school miles away.
    1. Just to juggle it around.
    2. Then got back to the filthy slums.

      (After school)

    3. Can't be juggle like different color marbles.
    4. It takes time.
      1. Lincoln (Slaves)
      2. Rome (Wasn't build in a day)

You'll laugh, you might cry, and if you're a teacher you'll nod your head and wonder along with the author of Ecclesiastes, "Is there nothing new under the sun?"

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1 comment:

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

I know I read this once - so long ago that I'd totally forgotten what it was about. It's kind of fun to be reintroduced to older books.

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