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Literature / Up the Down Staircase

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Up the Down Staircase is a hit 1964 book. It was later adapted into a 1967 film and later on a play.

The book tells the story of a young, idealistic teacher named Sylvia Barrett (played by Sandy Dennis in the film). Fresh out of school, Sylvia begins her first job as an English teacher at a NYC inner-city high school. Unfortunately, many of Sylvia's students are more interested in disturbing the class and goofing off than anything. Sylvia is not dissuaded and continues to try and teach her students about literature nevertheless.


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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.
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  • 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, also known to Sylvia as Admiral Ass. His official title is Administrative Assistant. He signs his memos Adm. Asst., from which sprang Sylvia's nickname for him.
  • Fat Girl: Vivian Paine's defining characteristic.
  • 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.
  • You Make Me Sic: 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.

Alternative Title(s): Up The Down Staircase

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