Teacherman Speaks

The one high point of yesterday’s Leadership Conference was the keynote speaker, Frank McCourt.

McCourt is a former teacher and author of Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis and, most recently, Teacher Man, all of which tell stories of his life from childhood through his career teaching English in New York City.

His presentation yesterday was a rambling collection of anecdotes from his books along with some very pointed observations on American education.

However, McCourt didn’t really need structure for his talk. He is a very charming, engaging story teller and even admitted that “this whole damn talk is a digression”. No one I was with seemed to mind.

At the risk of incurring a severe penalty (“If you can find a theme in this talk, I’ll give you a one-way ticket to Crawford, Texas.”), one theme woven throughout his stories is just how much we underestimate our students.

During his talk, McCourt noted that “kids demand honesty” because the world is always throwing lies at them, listing politicians and advertising among the guilty parties.

He also made the observation about how our students very quickly become experts on teachers, learning to read voice inflection, body language and other tells.

The keynote covered a whole lot of territory in a very short hour (as he said, nothing but digressions), but much of it is in his books, which he reads on the audiobook editions.

However, I’ll wrap up with two other little snippets from McCourt’s talk that caught my ear.

He asked the rhetorical question “At what point in American history did politicians hijack public education?” observing that “they control the purse strings so they think they control learning”.

Good question.

And at the conclusion he noted about his teaching career “I’m glad I did it and I hope I was useful.”

Me too.