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JOEL Joel's Blog

Frank McCourt, My English Teacher, Dies at 78


Frank McCourt, My English Teacher, Dies at 78 4I was very sad to learn today that my home room teacher for three years, and more importantly my English teacher for two years, passed away yesterday. I mostly write about woodworking topics but without the benefit of Frank McCourt I don't think I would ever have been able to write about anything.

Back in the early '70s I was a terrible speller (still am), terrible at punctuation (still am), and terrible at basic grammar (still am), but Mr. McCourt got us enthusiastic about reading language and then writing it ourselves. He continually marveled at the wonders of the English language, how words sounded, their subtle meanings, and of course the wonders and richness of a millennium of English literature. I still struggle with the basics daily, but reading and writing are a continued source of joy to me.

His enthusiasm rubbed off on an entire class. We would write short stories and then read them out in class on a regular basis. Fortunately, none of the stories I wrote then survive, but Mr. McCourt's constant encouragement instilled an enthusiasm in both writing and reading that lasts for me to this day.

This is what teaching is all about. Mr. McCourt was one of the best teachers I ever had and certainly the most inspiring. Without him showing me the way, I would never have started to write seriously. For that I will be forever grateful. For showing me how wonderful reading can be, how it could transport you instantly to a world in another place and time, I am also very grateful.

Thankfully I ran into Mr. McCourt in the street a few years before he became an international star and was able to thank him. I feel good about that - too many of my personal debts never get acknowledged.

When Angela's Ashes and his other books appeared they were immediately familiar to me as many of the stories in the book were first told to us in class. My class is also mentioned in the book which is a kick. Fame could not have happened to a nicer guy.

My condolences to his family. He will be missed, but while he was here he touched a lot of people in a really good way, myself included.

You can read more about Mr. McCourt here.

Join the conversation
07/20/2009 Tim
That's a lovely tribute, Joel. I am sure you are lucky to have had him for a
teacher. I never met Frank McCourt, but after reading his books, I felt that i knew
him as a friend.

And what an odd coincidence: the "ReCaptcha" code for my comment was
"Francis" "beastly".
07/20/2009 Wesley B. Tanner
Very few craftsmen, and I'd have to add especially women, these days have the opportunity to have a mentor in their lives. I had two, and not a month goes by when something doesn't remind me of them. You were lucky to have Frank McCourt, and wise beyound your years to recognize it at the time. Thank you for opening your heart and posting this beautiful remembrance.

And my capcha code is "rang loss". I'm sure the bells are tolling now.
07/20/2009 Paul

I too, attended Stuy but alas never got into Mr. McCourt's class despite herculean efforts. They broadcast an interview on Fresh Air that mentioned Stuy a few times. Presently, I don't reside with the literati so, when I mentioned our loss of Frank McCourt, no one knew who he was. Another sadness. Thanks for your remembrance.
07/20/2009 Paul

I almost forgot: Did you ever see "A Couple of Blaggards" with Frank and his brother, the actor, Malachi? It too, had a lot of the material from Angela's Ashes.
07/21/2009 Chris Storb

You got me with this one. I had friends at Stuyvesant but left NY just a few years after McCourt started there so never heard about him until he published. You're very lucky for that time.

Sadly, I never did see "A Couple of Blaggards", one of those things you put off, never realizing that one day it wold be gone. I wonder if anyone ever taped the show?
On Monday the 20th, Terry Gross re-aired her 1996 interview with Frank Mc
Court. He seemed like a great guy! NPR archives past show podcasts for two
weeks free, after that I think there i s a small fee. If you would like to
download the podcast and listen, it is available here for a limited time:

It was a very good interview. Terry is a very good at what she does and Frank
is just the kind of guy I found immediately enjoyable. He could have talked
all day, and I would have listened. It is an mp3 file that plays in iTunes and
will keep for as long as you like.

Joel, thanks for sharing your experiences with Frank, It is inspiring to hear of
the difference he made for you.
09/08/2009 Tek-Pheung Chuan
Frank McCourt taught me that my students, like me, like us all, have our own stories, and sorrows.

TP Chuan
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