Up the Down Staitcase Author:Bel Kaufman Schoolteachers make up a pretty small percentage of the population, but "Up the Down Staircase" gives us a little glimpse of exactly what it is like to be one. Especially an idealistic-to-a-fault one who has to deal with a... well, shall we say, interesting group of students. (That is to say, more than a little insane) — Miss Barrett arrives at C... more »alvin Coolidge High, to teach English to a motley band of students. Among them are: Hormone-addled Linda; resentful, angry Joe Ferone; woman-hating Rusty (who repeatedly tells Barrett that he would like her if she weren't "a female"); Edward Williams Esq., who thinks that everything is racially-prejudiced; soppily romantic Alice, and a slew of others. Miss Barrett realizes over time that the kids are screaming out not just for education, but for love and understanding. But will her idealism break through to them?
This isn't really a novel as people generally think of it -- it's composed of skits, letters, notes, and occasionally stretches of dialogue between the teachers and students. Sounds awful? It isn't. Instead it's cute and quirky, and if you get past the odd format it will become immensely enjoyable and coherent. The dialogue is funny, especially since quite a few of the students don't spell-check. ("Fuk"?) There are also suggestion box excerpts ("You think it's fair when a teacher takes off 5 points on a test just because I misspelled his name wrong?"; "We're behind you 85%!") and book reports ("We study myths to learn what it was like to live in the golden age with all the killings"; "We read it because it's a classicle"). One chapter is even devoted to the extremely imaginative lies that the students think up to explain what happened to their homework ("Some one stole it") with a bit of honesty as well ("I didn't know we were supposed to do it").
There are more serious moments, such as one young woman dying after a botched abortion, and a lovelorn girl jumping out of a window because her crush read one of her love letters. And Barrett's disillusionment near the end is as saddening as the response of the students is uplifting. It's also rather pleasant to read that a teacher with genuinely good intentions and hopes can make a positive difference, even though it lacks in realism. The peculiar narrative drags a bit during the first fourth, but picks up after that with more about the students and less chitchat between teachers.
"Up the Down Staircase" is touching and funny, a novel in the barest sense but immensely enjoyable. It's a little weird and drags at times, but it's still fun. And if you're a teacher, you'll probably be weeping at the traumatic memories it brings back.« less