The world has lost one of its most inspirational writers and teachers, AFT president Randi Weingarten said of author Frank McCourt, who died on July 19. McCourt was a New York City public school teacher and AFT member from 1960 to 1987.
"Frank McCourt saw teaching, storytelling and writing not only as a way out of his unimaginable, poverty-stricken childhood and adolescence, but also as a way to share his life's lessons," Weingarten said.
After graduating from New York University on the GI Bill, McCourt spent the next 27 years of his life as a New York City public school social studies and English teacher. His 2005 book, Teacher Man, chronicles his teaching career in New York City. "Thousands of students benefited from his remarkable ability to help them realize the richness of their own lives, no matter how difficult," Weingarten said.
At the AFT's 1997 educational issue conference, McCourt read from his just-published, Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography, Angela's Ashes, and regaled the audience with colorful remembrances of his years as a teacher. McCourt claimed he knew nothing about teaching when he became a teacher, except what he had picked up from his teachers in Ireland, all "trained by the Marquis de Sade." He added, "I didn't know I was learning on the job that first year [at McKee Vocational School on Staten Island], and later found out I had been learning on the job for 27 years. ... Norman Mailer said the only way you learn something is by writing about it. The only way I learned anything was by teaching about it."
July 19, 2009