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Up the Down Staircase Paperback – May 23, 1991

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Paperback, May 23, 1991
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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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarpPeren (May 23, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060973617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060973612
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (235 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bel Kaufman (b. 1911) is a bestselling writer, dedicated teacher, and lecturer best known for her novel Up the Down Staircase (1965), a classic portrayal of life in the New York public school system. Kaufman was born in Berlin, the daughter of Russian parents and granddaughter of celebrated Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem. Her family moved to Odessa when she was three, and Russian is her native language. The family also lived in Moscow before immigrating to New York City when Kaufman was twelve. There, she graduated magna cum laude from Hunter College and with high honors from Columbia University. Kaufman then worked as a high school teacher in the city for three decades. The success of Up the Down Staircase launched her second career as a sought-after speaker for events around the country. Kaufman is also the author of Love, Etc. (1979), a powerful, haunting, and poignant novel rendering life as fiction. Kaufman continues to live and work in New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 61 people found the following review helpful By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
Schoolteachers make up a pretty small percentage of the population, but "Up the Down Staircase" gives us a little glimpse of exactly what it is like to be one. Especially an idealistic-to-a-fault one who has to deal with a... well, shall we say, interesting group of students. (That is to say, more than a little insane)
Miss Barrett arrives at Calvin Coolidge High, to teach English to a motley band of students. Among them are: Hormone-addled Linda; resentful, angry Joe Ferone; woman-hating Rusty (who repeatedly tells Barrett that he would like her if she weren't "a female"); Edward Williams Esq., who thinks that everything is racially-prejudiced; soppily romantic Alice, and a slew of others. Miss Barrett realizes over time that the kids are screaming out not just for education, but for love and understanding. But will her idealism break through to them?
This isn't really a novel as people generally think of it -- it's composed of skits, letters, notes, and occasionally stretches of dialogue between the teachers and students. Sounds awful? It isn't. Instead it's cute and quirky, and if you get past the odd format it will become immensely enjoyable and coherent. The dialogue is funny, especially since quite a few of the students don't spell-check. ("Fuk"?) There are also suggestion box excerpts ("You think it's fair when a teacher takes off 5 points on a test just because I misspelled his name wrong?"; "We're behind you 85%!") and book reports ("We study myths to learn what it was like to live in the golden age with all the killings"; "We read it because it's a classicle").
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By "kaia_espina" on April 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
Don't be put off by my title. An antinovel is merely a book that rejects the traditional elements of a novel. In "Up the Down Staircase", the story is told through letters, memos, notes left in suggestion boxes, and scribblings in notebooks. Some people may consider the letters the clumsiest part of the novel, as they are too detailed and precise to have been written directly from the protagonist's memory (as they are supposed to have been). That is not the point, however, as this clumsiness is something you only notice after you've finished reading (hopefully), assuming that you're really into the story.
Like all other books about teachers-who-touch-the-lives-of-students, this novel is touching, poignant and funny--and properly depressing at the right times. It is also full of the strangest characters, teachers and students alike. Yet real life teachers will recognize their own students in the fictional ones and real life students will agree that the weird teachers in the novel are pretty realistic.
What makes "Up the Down Staircase" different from others of its kind (e.g. "The Blackboard Jungle") is that even though it is "messagey", it was not written by someone who had an axe to grind. Yes, Bel Kaufman exposes the terrible working conditions and lack of respect public school teachers get, as well as the poor education students are subjected to--but Kaufman is no Dickens! (Thank goodness!) The crusade to help teachers and students is put in the background, where it belongs; and the story of Miss Barrett, her students, and the other colorful people of Calvin Coolidge, remains in the foreground.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Emerson Randolph on January 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
I first read this book back in the 1960s before I entered the teaching profession. I have read it several times since. Having just retired from teaching after 34 years, I can say that kids are still basically the same as described in this book. They may have laptop computers now, but their personalities are the same. We still have the teacher pleasers, the lovesick girls, the politicians, the misfits, the loners, and all the rest. My mind has gone back to this book many times as I encountered situations similar to those that faced Miss Barrett. As a matter of fact, as English Department chairman, I often quoted her boss, Mr. Bester: Let it be a challenge to you. I recommend this book to all who would venture into the exciting and wonderful world of the school teacher.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Diane VINE VOICE on January 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
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.
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