Sylvia Barrett is neither a martyr nor a joke. She’s young, pretty, hard-working, and willing to learn even from her students.
Up The Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman
New York: Barker Publishing, 1965. 340 pages. 1965 bestseller #2. My grade: B
She is also totally unprepared for the students and the problems she finds at Calvin Coolidge High School.
Up the Down Staircase is not a particularly good novel; the 1967 film version makes the storyline stronger.
The novel compensates for its sketchy plot by a backpack’s worth of artifacts from the academic arena: notes, memos, bits of homework.
At first, Sylvia thinks the administrators are incompetent. She resents being treated as a clog in the system.
Gradually, however, she realizes that the administrators are doing their best in a bureaucracy over which they have no control.
Of course, this being fiction, we know Sylvia will be a wonderful teacher. The only suspense is whether she will survive long enough to decide she wants to stay on at CCHS.
When a student commits suicide at the school, that event makes the minimal impact on Sylvia’s life—which reveals she, too, has become part of the system.
© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni
Photo credit: Yellowslide by phreekdog.