Up the down Staircase

Up the down Staircase

by Bel Kaufman


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Bel Kaufman's Up the Down Staircase is one of the best-loved novels of our time. It has been translated into sixteen languages, made into a prize-winning motion picture, and staged as a play at high schools all over the United States; its very title has become part of the American idiom.

Never before has a novel so compellingly laid bare the inner workings of a metropolitan high school. Up the Down Staircase is the funny and touching story of a committed, idealistic teacher whose dash with school bureaucracy is a timeless lesson for students, teachers, parents—anyone concerned about public education. Bel Kaufman lets her characters speak for themselves through memos, letters, directives from the principal, comments by students, notes between teachers, and papers from desk drawers and wastebaskets, evoking a vivid picture of teachers fighting the good fight against all that stands in the way of good teaching.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060973612
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/28/1991
Series: Harper Perennial
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.82(d)

About the Author

Bel Kaufman grew up in Russia, learned English at age twelve, and went on to a distinguished literary, academic, and teaching career. She has won many awards for her writing and public speaking, addressing educators and students here and abroad. She is the granddaughter of the celebrated Yiddish humorist Sholom Aleichem.

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Up the down Staircase 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i read this book only because every time i passed by it the jacket called out to me, i began reading it and couldn't put it down. it gave me compassion were the had only been contempt for teachers. definatly a good read for any one who was a student. i also really enjoy the style it was written in. a very funny piece.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this book is great because we students always complain about the work that teachers give us and I think this book is good because it shows how much work(and problems) we give teachers.
popeyeswench More than 1 year ago
Through a series of written documents including memos from the principal, comments from a suggestion box, letters to an old friend, notes from students, this story unfolds to show the ludicrous road blocks teacher must navigate to reach their students. This unique literary method makes this book a real pleasure to read.
TopShelfNook More than 1 year ago
I read this book some 25 years ago while in high school and thoroughly enjoyed it from the students' perspective. I jumped out of my seat when I saw that it was available on ebook. Bought it immediately! It made me laugh all over but now from the perspective of a teacher. Yes, it emphasizes the craziness. But it so tacitly emphasizes the little things that lassos a teacher's heart to her classroom. This is a perfect summer read (or re-read!)
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
Last fall, I saw that one of the books that I loved as a high school student, Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman, was being reissued as an ebook. I can vividly remember reading the slim book, a fictionalized account of Kaufman's experiences teaching in the New York City schools system in the 1950s and 60s. The book became a movie starring Sandy Dennis, and I loved that too. Although at times it paints a very bleak portrait of NYC public schools, what shines through is the main character Miss Sylvia Barringer's love of teaching and her students. This book was responsible for many young women choosing teaching as a career. The book covers Miss Barringer's first year teaching in a poor city high school. Most of the students came from poverty stricken families, and had so many other problems at home that school was either a refuge for them or a place they went to until they dropped out to get a job to help support their families. Miss Barringer is baffled by the students' actions and the ridiculous clerical work required from the administration. She quickly learns the language:"Keep on file in numerical order" means throw it in the wastebasket. "Let it be a challenge to you" means that you're stuck with it; "interpersonal relationships" is a fight between kids; "ancillary civic agencies for supportive discipline" means call the cops. "Non-academic minded" is a delinquent and "it has come to my attention" means you're in trouble.She makes friends with an older teacher, Bea, who shows her the ropes and encourages Sylvia to hang in there and try to reach her students. (I think the author is a combination of Bea and Sylvia.) She puts a suggestion box in her classroom and she shares many of the notes that her students leave there. The notes are funny, profane, and sometimes heartbreaking. We meet many of the students through them, including Edward Williams, who deigns to be class president and tries to impress Miss Barringer with his knowledge. Joey Ferrone is a tough guy, the one kid Barringer really wants to reach. She believes he hides his intelligence behind his rough exterior, and they have one interaction that is filled with tension. The book started out as a magazine article containing many of the real student notes that Kaufman kept from her teaching days. The magazine liked it so much, it became a full-fledged novel. I thought that in reading this book, it might feel dated to me, but it did not, and I'm not sure how that makes me feel. Schools are still filled with bureaucratic nonsense, and students in poor schools still get the short end of the stick. It makes me sad that in some ways we haven't come very far. After we saw the heroic teachers in Newtown who gave their lives to save their students, it is the right time to read or re-read Up the Down Staircase. It's good to be reminded of the many people who believe in the importance of teaching our children, and the challenges they face as they do it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Funny look at communication within a school. Many of the issues facing Sylvia are present in schools today. Similar student responses and administrative memos could be found in today's school. Fun look at the inside of a school.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I reccomend this book 100% to anyone. It has a very intersting plot and some very well developed characters. Excellent story for anyone to read.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book shortly after it was published in 1965. I am not sure what led me to the book other than perhaps the topic of high school education as I was a student at the time. It told the story of Sylvia Barrett, an idealistic English teacher at an inner-city high school (very unlike my own small-town school) who hopes to nurture her students' interest in classic literature (especially Chaucer-I was not a fan of this writer) and writing. She quickly becomes discouraged during her first year teaching, frustrated by dumb bureaucracy (what other kind is there?), the indifference of her students, and the incompetence of many of her colleagues. She decides to leave public school to work in a smaller private setting. Her mind is changed, however, by the realization that she has indeed touched the lives of her students (this did happen in my school and I benefited from it).The novel is epistolary in form: aside from opening and closing chapters consisting entirely of dialog, the story is told through documents, such as memos from the office, fragments of notes dropped in the trash can, essays that are handed in to be graded, lesson plans, suggestions dropped in the class suggestion box, and letters written by Barrett to a friend from college who chose to get married and start a family rather than pursue a career. The letters serve as a recap and summary of key events in the book, and offer a portrait of women's roles and responsibilities in American society in the mid-1960s as well. The book's title comes from a memo to teachers, instructing them to make sure that students "do not walk up the down staircase."I remember this as a delightful read full of humor - a book that I truly could not put down.
patience_crabstick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I know this book was hugely successful, but to me it came across as glib, shallow and cliched. Yes, serious things occur, but overall the whole "If I can touch just ONE child" thing is just tired. Maybe it was fresh in 1961. Up the Down Staircase compares unfavorably with another teaching novel I read immediately after: I'm not Complaining by Ruth Adam, a much less idealistic look at teaching in a poor school in industrial England in the 1930s.
C.Vick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow, what a great and unique read!This is the story of a young, and perhaps idealistic, new teacher in a New York City public high school. We follow the new career Miss Barrett through most of her first year of teaching -- not through a traditional narrative, however, but through various letters, memos, notes, and selections from the "Suggestion Box" she installs in her classroom.The pace, like the day-to-day routine of Barrett, is delightfully hectic, and occasionally conveys a feeling of disorientation that I'm sure would be quite matched by the confusion of a new faculty member. It is at times screamingly funny, and at others it will almost break your heart.Most amazing, to me, is how relevant it still seems, even though it was published almost 40 years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I suppose! The only thing that baffles me is that this book is often advanced as a Young Adult book? Why? I'm sure many teachers wish that their high school students could read a novel like this and come to better understand what it is like to be a teacher -- but the kids in Kaufman's novel wouldn't have and neither will your average teenager. Not to say some wouldn't enjoy its humor and clever construction, but rather that I do not think that can possibly be the best target audience.While the ending is a bit, shall we say, Hallmark, the sum total of the book is refreshingly realistic, engaging, and fun! What a treat to read.
jaimelesmaths on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
aubreyfs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
No wonder this novel has sold so well! It is brilliant. The experience of a high school english teacher is told through school memos, teacher notes, student assignments, etcetera over the course of one semester. The teacher's anxiety and despair are made obvious by the ludicrous expectations and politics throughout the school. A little depressing at times, this book was so witty that I couldn't put it down.
SandSing7 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't think I've ever been able to relate to a character in the way that I related to Sylvia. When you're a teacher, you realize that the hopeful expectations, the unbridled giving of yourself, and the love of your subject matter is constantly in contrast with the never-ending, mundane administrative "to-do" list, the constant bullying of helicopter parents, and the reality that most students don't covet, value, or respect the material that you cherish. A work that is even more relevant now that it was when it was written.
smg5775 More than 1 year ago
Classic story of a first year teacher in the NYC school district in the 1960's. It tells of her ups and downs, successes and failures. It is relatable even if you are not a teacher. The absurdity of the bureaucracy is very believable. It is a wonder the students learn anything with all the rules and regulations and disregard this memos that fly between teachers and administration. Sylvia Barrett made a difference to her students. I would like to know what happened to her, Joe Ferone, and Alice. The others seem to have made it out alive.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Would be best enjoyed by teachers and those having to deal with lots of bureaucratic red tape. I certainly got the message after a few chapters. Didn't really need to read on and finish the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago