As he's finishing grad school in the early 1990s, the author applies for positions in the Boston public school system; he wants to teach in an urban school, to work "with kids who might have their lives changed by me." In this absorbing, almost journal-like memoir, his second, Halpin (It Takes a Worried Man) shares his nine-year roller-coaster ride of life as a high school English teacher in Boston and two nearby suburbs. Halpin writes passionately about his work, from the highs of watching students "translate" scenes from Shakespeare-"One group... does a great job of turning Romeo and Juliet into something like Beavis and Juliet"-to the lows of not being able to control a room full of disruptive teenagers. He doubts himself and thinks about quitting. "I can't believe how much I suck at this job," he writes at one point (suck, one of the author's favorite words, appears a little too often). Halpin's story doesn't have a conventional happy ending, but he does accomplish his initial goals. In what he describes as "probably the best class I will ever have," Halpin reads Wordsworth's poem "We Are Seven" with a class of academically struggling juniors in Newcastle, Mass. "They speak honestly and movingly, and, best of all from the perspective of an English teacher, they keep coming back to the poem," he writes. "By the end of the class, they have done as thorough a job analyzing the poem as I could have hoped for." Though the memoir lags a bit in the middle, especially when Halpin recounts his frustrations with colleagues and school administrators, this chronicle provides an irreverent yet earnest look at the vocation its author clearly loves. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Those familiar with Halpin's acclaimed memoir, It Takes a Worried Man, will recognize the frankness, honesty, and sense of humor displayed here. But this time, instead of dealing with his wife's battle with breast cancer, Halpin focuses on the experience of being a high school teacher. Still a teaching English in Boston, Halpin recounts the early days of his career and describes the ups and downs of his many teaching jobs with verve and warm, witty humor. He also candidly discusses his frustrations with administrators and colleagues. Some will read these amusing anecdotes with a sense of disbelief and anger at the absurdities of high school bureaucracy, while others will simply laugh-a dual quality that is precisely the book's strength. Beginning teachers will find much insight here, and seasoned teachers will be reminded to look at the larger picture. Portraits of secondary schools are rarely written in such an informal, informative, yet jocular fashion, which recommends this light but entertaining memoir for education collections in public libraries.-Leroy Hommerding, Fort Myers Beach P.L. Dist., FL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
After detailing his wife’s struggle with breast cancer, the author of It Takes a Worried Man (2002) turns to a more cheerful topic: his life as a high-school teacher. When adding to the substantial weird-world-of-teaching bookshelf, it helps to be young, unjaded, brimming with a desire to teach, and able to convey genuine pleasure when a class ignites. Halpin claims to be easily bullied, but he’s also capable of rocking the boat without a whiff of self-righteousness. Nine years into his profession, his voice reflects an honest unruliness. He aspires to be "a hated-then-loved hard-ass," but admits to feeling "terribly uncomfortable with the reality of my authority," a circumstance that occasionally bites him on the ankle: "Finally I just lose my mind. I get right in his face and scream, ‘Shut up! Will you just shut up!’…The other kids laugh. The next day I apologize to him. I will feel guilty for years about this." Halpin changes jobs often, working in various suburban schools as he tries to find a way into the Boston public school system, where he aches to teach. He gets to the city with an experimental truancy prevention project, then goes to a charter school that really has his heart, until its vibrant teacher-controlled atmosphere is crushed by the imposition of an ill-fitting administration. The bureaucracy’s destructive capabilities nearly drive him out of teaching altogether. But he decides instead to push on to a more functional environment. "I used to want to transform education," he writes. "Now I just want to work with kids in a place that doesn't grind me down." Is this a cop-out, Halpin asks himself? Readers won’t think so as they watch him move once more from his corner intothe center of the ring. The ups and downs of the teaching profession may leave Halpin feeling like a basketball, but thankfully he isn’t full of hot air. Agent: Douglas Stewart/Curtis Brown
“Comic, profane, honest and thought-provoking...an irreverent, heartbreaking, dumbfoundingly funny book about love, fear and perseverance.”
—The Arizona Republic
“Traumatic, touching and shockingly funny... Bottom line: Man at his best.” —People
“Raw, undisciplined, and frequently very funny.”—Boston Sunday Globe
“If it takes a worried man to write a book like this, then Mr. Halpin’s disquietude is our decided gain. With admirable vigilance against self-pity, the unflagging knowledge that he is not, at the end of the day, the one who is sick, and the comical contortions of a man trying to avoid the maudlin and trite, Brendan Halpin has written a work that is both genuinely moving and frequently—surprisingly frequently—hilarious, a beautiful portrait of the dark, unlovely rollick of adulthood.”
—David Rakoff, author of Fraud