Up the Down Staircase

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 15 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

This title was originally published in 1964 and it's just as funny and good today as it was then.  It is a little dated because the education system has changed over the years but everyone should be able to relate.  Based on teacher memos, trashcan finds of student notes etc. this book has evolved into a classic.   Set in a big city high school there will be similarities for all schools. As a 30 year veteran of the school system it had me laughing out loud.   I received a copy of this ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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I received a digital copy of this book from the author, Netgalley.com and Knopf Doubleday Vintage. Thanks to all for the opportunity to read and review.

50 years after it's first publication, Up the Down Staircase is still as relevant today as it was then. A freshly minted graduate takes her first teaching job in a NYC high school. The trials and tribulations are still applicable today. The struggles are the same.

An excellent read. 5 out of 5 stars.
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"My dog pead on it." (student's excuse for not turning in homework, UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE, p. 157.)

I confess this is not the first time I've read Bel Kaufman's UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE. In fact, it's not even the second or third reading. But the quote above has always amused me, in part because I knew I couldn't have gotten away with such an excuse.

My first time reading this novel about Calvin Coolidge High first-year teacher Sylvia Barrett took place in my freshman year of high school (1978-79) when I was beginning to think about becoming a teacher myself. I eventually chose a different career but have great respect for the teachers I had and those who continue to accept the challenge of educating kids in America's schools, whether public, private, or parochial.

There is a reason why UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE keeps being re-released, this time in a 55th anniversary reprinting with a new introduction by Diane Ravitz. That reason, I believe, is that story remains as contemporary in 2019 as it was in 1964. Kaufman's novel contains much humor, but the flipside is the reality that education continues to have a low priority when it comes to funding, and bureaucracy, paperwork, and "teaching to the test" continue to plague teachers. There are no easy answers here, but I'm glad there are still real-life counterparts to the fictional Sylvia Barrett.

Highly recommended!

I received a copy from Vintage Books/Penguin Random House, LLC through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
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I can now understand why they say Up the Down Staircase is a timeless classic because it has withheld the test of time. More than fifty years later, Up the Down Staircase is as relevant today as when originally published in 1964. I came across only a few words that might be unfamiliar to some — phonograph, mimeos and mimeographs,  FTG (translation - Friday Thank God) and possibly pupils (not the eye variety).  

Up the Down Staircase is an entertaining and very creative read that’s entirely comprised of school memos, student assignments, letters, teacher-to-teacher communication, etc. It tells the story of Sylvia Barrett, a brand new teacher in an urban NYC school. This Chaucer scholar finds teaching to be very different compared to what she expected. Her idealism and starry-eyed naiveté clashes with reality — apathetic inner-city kids behind the curve. Specifically, she teaches separate classes of “Special Slows,” “Slow Non-Readers” and “Low-Normal” students. 

The book begins on Sylvia’s first day and the student banter, while she tries to gain control of the class, is highly relatable and amusing. She quickly learns that a lot more of her time is spent on clerical work rather than teaching. In fact, on her first day, she is only able to check two of twenty off the list of items she’s expected to complete for her home room class. Adding to her frustration, is the lack of assistance and support she gets from the administration. For example, she gets this response to her supply requests — 

“Why do you need so many paperclips? Supplies are running low. All out of desk blotters. All out of rubber bands. All out of board erasers. No red pencils - only blue. Can let you have half envelope of chalk - all out of boxes.”

Sylvia’s letters to her friend Ellen reveal a lot of the story as she recounts her trials and tribulations and explains how she is feeling about it.  For instance, she explains in one letter about the teacher-student relationship and how it’s a tightrope and balancing act. Sylvia ponders what to do about a challenging student who wants to drop out.

One of my favorite parts is  the student responses to Sylvia’s prompts. There is one in which she asks them to write about their best friend. One student says it’s T.V.  And another says it’s a good book and cites Anthony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare and the favorite part is when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton....  (Someone watched the movie instead of reading the book!) Also, the notes from the suggestion box are funny - e.g. Can you make the chalk stop squeaking? Another complains about the rotten books they’re given to read and how they wouldn’t give it to a dog to read.

Sylvia struggles with the voluminous paperwork, unmotivated students and whether she is making a difference in their lives.  The reader will walk away with a new appreciation for teachers, both what they must cope with as well as how influential they can be in a student’s life.

Thank you to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and NetGalley for an advance reader copy in exchange for my honest review.
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Written in the form of a play or in a kind of epistolary style - memos from the school principal, letters written to a college friend, no use of narration. Plot-wise it ishard to believe this was written in the ‘60s and still stands up today; a wild ride of a semester’s experiences for this brand new teacher able to connect to students and lose others, recognize her students’ hidden talents, aspirations and needs and grow personally as a professional educator. I’ve never seen the movie, but am definitely tracking it down.
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This book is one of the reasons that over four decades ago I decided to be a teacher because I wanted to make a difference like Ms. Barrett.  The book is exactly the same as when I first read it...letters from Sylvia to her friend, notes to her colleagues, memos from the office and much more.  What is most entertaining and what gives the most information about Calvin Coolidge High School are the short paragraphs that the students write in reply to a prompt from Ms. Barrett.  They are extremely needy students who just want someone to care and that person comes in the form of a young and inexperienced Sylvia Barrett.  Although Ms. Barrett is fictional, she represents every teacher who has tried and who continues to try to touch their students’ lives, to make the world a little bit better.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book this second time and highly recommmend it to anyone who wants to see what a high school is like, with mountains of paperwork and little time to actually interact with the students, much less actually make a difference in ther lives.  The most memorable character was Mr. Grayson, the disappearing custodian who tries to help out the students in his own way.  The theme of the book seems to be to keep trying to help others because the small things you do will count in their lives someday.  Loved it!
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Thanks to NetGalley for a Kindle ARC of Up the Down Staircase.

I wish I could give a proper review but the format for the Kindle made it unreadable but what little I read sounded amusing and interesting.

I may have to wait to see if my library will have a copy.
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Up The Down Staircase was first published in 1964. The message of the story remains true. Teaching is hard. I taught middle school for eight years. I can honestly say that I hated it. Parents are ridiculous. Kids are bad both then and now. Disrespect, disregard, lying, cheating, distracted and the list goes on. I like this book because it's true. Every teacher should have a copy. Thanks to NetGalley for an arc in exchange for an honest review.
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Confession:  I taught public school for eight years, have been in education for twelve years, and have never read Up the Down Staircase.  It's truly a classic and I can't believe it has taken me this long to enjoy it.  I love the format and I'm always attracted to this epistolary structure.

What is more, I read the book as a teacher.  It's hard for me to imagine reading this novel outside of my own experience, but I think this is a book a wide range of readers could enjoy (and, let's be honest, have enjoyed for many years).  The conflicts are real and teachers today face new challenges.

Well worth the read.
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I first read this dear book when I was in Junior High School, having saved up my baby-sitting money to buy it. I loved it then, and I love it now. I work with children of all ages in my professional practice, and the primary thing that struck me on this re-reading after 50 years is that kids are not so different now from then. Yes, back then there were no personal computers, cell phones, no internet, no social media. But refreshingly, the kids today are not much different from these depicted in her book, and that was heart-warming. I strongly recommend this book, whether one has read it before or not. It may well lift your spirits, and possibly motivate you to contact  one of your former teachers who proved influential in your early life.
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Important: This is NOT a review of the book itself. Unreadable on a kindle. Dont know about kindle fire but a normal kindle? Not. Paragraphs and illustrations are completely split up. Too bad, i really emjoyed this book as a yound adult. Will have to track down a paperback now. I hope someone will check this out and fix this before publication.
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