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Up The Down Staircase
In Up The Down Staircase, Bel Kaufman showed that a contemporary American teacher’s life is full of surprises. She described from the inside what goes on in a large metropolitan high school. She showed in a unique way what happens when a teacher’s ideals conflict with inadequate facilities and the lack of communication. Miss. Sylvia Barrett, an attractive, young women starts her job at a New York metropolitan high school as an English teacher. This novel follows through the first semester of Miss. Barrett’s teaching career. It gives insights from the students and the teachers minds, in their own voices, how the system works. Miss. Barrett was faced with conflicts all her days of teaching. From filling out Permanent Record Cards, to going to faculties conferences and giving mid-term exams she dealt with some unusual problems. One of her conflicts was when she was working at the Faculty Show. Unfortunately, she was backstage and the pagoda, or backdrop fell on her foot. She was kept in the hospital over Christmas break. Another was her constant battle with Administrator Assistant, James J. McHabe also known as “Admiral Ass” (page 56). He constantly accused Miss. Barrett of everything but teaching. Miss. Barrett’s true conflict occurred when she thought she was reaching out to one of her students, Joe Ferone, and ended up getting “reached” out to herself. Ferone was an outsider who had a bad attitude. He wanted to drop out and Miss. Barrett tried to give him several good reasons to stay. She felt “something in him that is worth saving” (page 242). In the end the two of them met after school. Miss. Barrett’s goal was she wanted to reach out to Ferone and show him that someone does care. She accomplished her goal and it frightened him to learn that people do care. After the meeting Miss. Barrett realized she was more than just a teacher, she was a friend.
The setting in this novel helps depict what being an educator is actually like. Being new to the school, Miss. Barrett faced avalanche’s of papers and languages that she didn’t understand. The author’s description of the customs and manners of the faculty and students added to the warmth and laughter of this novel. The setting is important to this novel because if it was taken place in a different time or era the events would not have occurred. Miss. Kaufman gives an excellent description of the days spent in the crowded halls and class rooms of a metropolitan high school. Filling out Delany Cards, the Roll Book, and accident reports were only a few of the jobs for the young Miss. Barrett, not to mention teaching. The author really makes you fill part of the novel, you feel as if you are one of Miss. Barrett’s pupils.
Miss. Barrett arrives at the high school thinking that she is just there to teach and ends up learning that emotional involvement cannot be supported from caring. After meeting with Ferone she dealt with conflicts that the student was a person and not just a student. As Miss. Barrett got involved in each of the students lives she finally realized that she meant something to them and they meant something to her.Struggling with herself to “reach” Ferone she begged him to meet with her. Finally when he surrendered to her request they both realized how important the student, teacher, friend relationship is.
Bel Kaufman combined both laughter and warmth to make this delightful novel. She accurately portrayed an educators lifestyle and made it entertaining. Her characters where interesting and intriguing and made you want to read on. She made
you fill as if you were in the novel as a teacher and a student. This novel is well worth reading because of its entertainment value.
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Films, Up the Down Staircase, Bel Kaufman, The Madcap Laughs, Barrett
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