Up the Down Staircase

Thoughts utdscbybk Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman, First Open Road edition 2012 (orig 1964), 368 pages

For the What’s in a Name Challenge 6: Up/Down

The blurb from goodreads.com (if you click on the book cover above, you will be directed to the site):

Never before has a novel so compellingly laid bare the inner workings of a metropolitan high school. Up the Down Staircase is the funny and touching story of a committed, idealistic teacher whose dash with school bureaucracy is a timeless lesson for students, teachers, parents–anyone concerned about public education. Bel Kaufman lets her characters speak for themselves through memos, letters, directives from the principal, comments by students, notes between teachers, and papers from desk drawers and wastebaskets, evoking a vivid picture of teachers fighting the good fight against all that stands in the way of good teaching.

Even though the description explains that we are given this story via memos and letters, etc, I was not prepared for the style of delivery. I loved it. I was surprised and engaged; very effective and powerful.

I was amazed at how the student and teacher attitudes mirror today’s students’ and teachers’. And saddened. And amused – the notes between Bel and her ‘mentor’ teacher could easily be texts or tweets today. The situations and challenges were all real and dramatic or silly and fun. She captures it all. I laughed and I cried.

Highly recommended. And scary for me since I’m about to enter this world. Or am starting to prepare for a career in education, shall we say. I start school this fall to become certified.

I’m glad I read this. Five pie slice read.

Never mind the cream; it will always rise to the top. It’s the skim milk that needs good teachers.

There are a few good, hard-working patient people … who manage to teach against insuperable odds; a few brilliantly endowed teachers who – unknown and unsung – work their magic in the classroom; a few who truly love young people. The rest, it seems to me, have either given up, or are taking it out on the kids. “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Like most sayings, this is only half true. Those who can, teach; those who can’t – the bitter, the misguided, the failures from other fields – find in the school system an excuse or a refuge.”*

“Sauve qui peut**! Think only of yourself. Getting involved does them no good.”

What could I say to show him that to survive, love was as strong as hate, and could be trusted? His world had taught him well, long before me.

Copley Connection***:  “He sstill inssisstss he sseezz the ghosstss.” <–> Stephen King’s IT.

* I honestly can state that I have not met too many of these bitter and misguided types. Sure, I’ve met a few who might not be the best at the teaching arts or may be burnt out – who might blame them?!  But my heart refuses to accuse any teacher of being totally rotten at it. (Also, corrollary: “Those who can’t teach, consult!” or write educational software. Seriously, the computer programs I have seen for managing grades or assigning substitutes are seriously be out-of-touch on that characteristic called ‘User-Friendly”.

** Can anyone translate this for me?

***A Copley Connection is when a book is linked somehow to another book that I’ve read…

Wish I could say something honest (on student evaluations), like:  “Sycophant,stuffed-shirt, stinker. Has finger in every school pie; will go far.”



Copyright © 2007-2013. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

6 thoughts on “Up the Down Staircase

  1. I think “sauve qui peut” means “save who you can.” Also, I’ve heard this title before and had no clue what it was about. I think I thought of the old PBS show Upstairs Downstairs and thought it was some hoity toity British thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with those.

  2. What continues to amaze me about this book, is not how funny it is, nor how clever the writing, but how accurate i5 is for 2013. I have taught for almost 30 years, since the day I left college, and while the technology is vastly different, the bureaucracy is exactly the same. Funny, but sad st the same time.

  3. Pingback: Finished 2013 What’s in a Name 6 Challenge | Care's Online Book Club

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