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Literature / Up the Down Staircase

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Up the Down Staircase is a 1964 Epistolary Novel by Bel Kaufman. A bestseller, it was adapted into a 1967 film and later on a stage play.

The novel tells the story of a young, idealistic teacher named Sylvia Barrett. Fresh out of college, Sylvia begins her first job as an English teacher at an inner-city public high school in New York City. Unfortunately, many of Sylvia's students are more interested in disturbing the class and goofing off than learning anything. Sylvia is not dissuaded and continues to try and teach her students about literature nevertheless.

The film was directed by Robert Mulligan and stars Sandy Dennis as Sylvia, along with Patrick Bedford, Eileen Heckart, Ruth White, Sorrell Booke, and Jean Stapleton.

Up the Down Staircase provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Linda's dad beats her. She's introduced with a black-eye.
  • A Day in the Limelight: By appointing shy, quiet José to be the judge presiding over the mock trial, Sylvia provides this for him. He later comments that it made him feel "real," and the experience gives him self-confidence. Whereas before he had always signed his written suggestions and comments "Me," he now proudly writes out his name.
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Ella Friedenberg, full stop. Lampshaded when Sylvia calls her Ella Freud.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Mrs. Lewis looks haggard and tired. She complains about the extra work they stick her with, and believes herself to be the only teacher in the school who takes the job seriously. She doesn't think much of Mrs. Pastorfield's attempts to make learning fun.
  • Bungled Suicide: Alice jumps out of a school window after being spurned and embarrassed by her crush. She only survived because the ledge broke her fall.
  • Class Clown: Several characters but Lou Martin is the most obvious example.
  • Cool Teacher: What Mrs. Pastorfield wants to be, by turning her lessons into games.
  • Dean Bitterman: J. J. McHabe. His official title is Administrative Assistant. He signs his memos Adm. Asst., which inspires Sylvia to nickname him Admiral Ass.
  • Dramatic Ellipsis: Alice peppers her love letter to her crush, English teacher Paul Barringer, with a series of these. He's enough of an ass to send her a Grammar Correction Gag response in which (in addition to correcting other errors) he points out that she's using them incorrectly.
  • Enthusiastic Newbie Teacher: The work stars such a teacher. Sylvia is an idealistic new English teacher who begins working af an Inner City School. She's young enough to pass as a student and isn't respected due to her youth. Despite the odds, she tries to make her students into good pupils.
  • Grammar Correction Gag: Played for Drama when a teacher corrects a character's love letter in front of her. It's so embarrassing that she tries to kill herself afterwards.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Rusty, who is annoyed to have a "dame" for a homeroom teacher. He never has a kind word to say about anybody who is female. Subverted in the last chapter, at the start of the new term, when he is transferred to Sylvia's homeroom by his own request.
  • Inner City School: The film takes place in an inner-city Manhattan school.
  • Older Than They Look: Miss Sylvia Barrett, a rookie teacher as it is, looks young enough to sometimes be mistaken for a student. This does not work to her advantage.
  • Save Our Students: Sylvia has to deal with overly playful students who don't want to learn, students with personal issues, and other issues.
  • Self-Abuse: The school psychologist has a boy listed as having "latent homosexuality" caused by self-abusive practices and an overbearing mother.
  • Teacher/Student Romance:
    • Alice has a crush on a male teacher.
    • Joe Ferone mistakes Sylvia's caring for sexual interest, and makes a move on her.
  • Team Mom: Mrs. Schachter is this to her students and to the newer, younger teachers.
  • The Reason You Suck: After being chastised and shunned for causing Alice's attempted suicide, Paul Barringer gets drunk and barges into Sylvia's class making a speech about how writers shouldn't just stick to what they know, and students at Calvin Coolidge High should also broaden their horizons as well.
  • Weight Woe: Vivian Paine's defining characteristic. (To the point that her mother asks Sylvia, as if it's her responsibility, not to let her eat so much.) She demonstrates "coming out of her shell" and beginning to like herself better by the fact that she is starting to lose weight.

Alternative Title(s): Up The Down Staircase