July 19, 2009
Statement by Randi Weingarten,
President, American Federation of Teachers,
On the Death of Frank McCourt
Author Frank McCourt, who died today, was a New York City public school teacher
and AFT member from 1960 to 1987.
WASHINGTON—The world has lost one of its most inspirational writers and teachers. 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. 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. Thousands of students benefited from his remarkable ability to help them realize the richness of their own lives, no matter how difficult. His 2005 book, Teacher Man, chronicles his teaching career in New York City.
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."
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The AFT represents more than 1.4 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.