It starts with a classroom confrontation over a sandwich, written with humour and lively pace. We see how McCourt, following his instincts more than any manual or advice, learns how to master and eventually move beyond crowd control to inspire and help the learners in his classes. I couldn't have done his job. I've had the odd spot of classroom conflict, but no one, in all my years of Tefl, has ever flung their lunch across the room.
Yet McCourt has all the qualities so common to the Tefl lifer; lack of self-esteem, constant self-questioning, self-accusation, self-doubt, conflict with bosses, relationship troubles, drinking. But the best qualities too; creativity, independence, humour, and an instinctual feel for the needs, backgrounds, and learning styles of his students. Qualities that push the teacher way beyond the stifling confines of book and curriculum.
"If a principal had ever said, The class is yours, teacher. Do with it what you like, I would have said to my students, Push the chairs aside. Sit on the floor. Go to sleep.
I said, Go to sleep.
Figure it out for yourself while you're lying there on the floor.
They'd lie on the floor and some would drift off. There would be giggling as boy wriggled closer to girl. Sleepers would snore sweetly. I'd stretch out with them on the floor and ask if anyone knew a lullaby. I know a girl would start and others would join. A boy might say, Man, what if the principal walked in. Yeah. The lullaby continues, a murmur round the room. Mr McCourt, when are we getting up? He's told, Shush, man, and he shushes. The bell rings and they're slow off the floor. They leave the room, relaxed and puzzled. Please don't ask me why I'd have such a session. It must be the spirit that moves."