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Up the Down Staircase

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  5,555 ratings  ·  343 reviews
Bel Kaufman's Up the Down Staircase is one of the best-loved novels of our time. It has been translated into sixteen languages, made into a prize-winning motion picture, and staged as a play at high schools all over the United States; its very title has become part of the American idiom.

Never before has a novel so compellingly laid bare the inner workings of a metropolitan
Paperback, 368 pages
Published July 3rd 1991 by Harper Perennial (first published 1964)
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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeThe Outsiders by S.E. HintonOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken KeseyCharlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald DahlA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Best Books of the Decade: 1960's
71st out of 642 books — 870 voters
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. DickSomething Wicked This Way Comes by Ray BradburyPride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-SmithThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas AdamsI Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
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154th out of 2,233 books — 2,073 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Matthew Gallant
I just prayed that I wouldn't waste another week or two of summer courses for my Master's Degree with another doozy of a book like "Oh the Glory of It All." I didn't. Thank God this book was required for class. At that point, I'd been a teacher for three years, now it's five, and in ten years, I'll be able to say i'm a third of the way through my career and forty years into life. And everything that happens on every page of "Up the Down Staircase" will still be 100% true of public education and ...more
I have found a book to add to my collection of inspiration-to-stay-a-teacher-media; I found it just in time.

Even though the book was originally published five years before I was born, teaching really hasn't changed that much. No surprise. Students haven't changed either.

I recognize entirely too much of the jargon. I recognize entirely too many of the statistics. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I also recognize the lesson she learned that I have to relearn: the students know w
Jan Priddy
Sep 18, 2012 Jan Priddy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: future teachers
"Disregard bells!"

This is an epistolary novel of the first term teaching by a young woman in a NYC public high school. Kaufman already had 20 years teaching in NYC schools when she saw this first novel published. The main character, Sylvia, is a serious woman who is unprepared by her education for classes of SS students (Super-Slows) and ordinary kids facing trouble in over-filled poor facilities. None of this is new. She faces what many teachers face today: too many students, an over-worked, se
I am admittedly biased. Up the Down Staircase delves into the realm of teaching and education, which, as a future teacher, has me mesmerized. While studying it, as I'm sure any other reader would do, I repeatedly asked myself "What difference can one teacher make in an inner-city world of pupil complacency and administrative beauracracy?" Kaufman examines the topic through a variety of written documents: memos from the principal, comments from a suggestion box, letters to an old friend, notes fr ...more
Mike (the Paladin)
I've mentioned several books here that I only read because my girl friend of the 60s wanted me to, or at least introduced me to them. This may be another, I can't remember, but I did read it about that time.

While the book tended (and for all I know still tends) to be thought of as more a "female" read. This is a misnomer and if you allow yourself to miss this book because you think it's not for "men" you'll miss a "good read".

The novel is an epistolary tale of the struggle a dedicated young tea
103-годишната днес проф. Бел Кауфман публикува "Нагоре по стълбата, която води надолу" преди почти 50 години. Превеждана, преиздавана, екранизирана, превърнала се в многоседмичен бестселър, култово четиво и част от учебната програма, тя е можело да си остане незабележим разказ от три и половина страници, ако бдителна редактора не усетила потенциала на записките от учителското кошче.

Попадна ми в далечните гимназиални години, незнайно откъде и се превърна в една от книгите с главно К. В нея беше з
Mar 06, 2015 Efka rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Efka by: Rolanda
Shelves: abandoned
Neįstengiau pabaigt. Siaubingai nepatiko. Skaitai, ir prieš akis iškyla chaosas, triukšmas, betvarkė, biurokratija ir krūva abejingų idiotų - viskas, dėl ko nekenčiau mokyklos.

Pati knygos forma irgi siaubinga, kažkoks cirkuliarų, raštelių, laišku, klausimų ir atsakymų kratinys be jokios aiškios ir logiškos struktūros.

Žodžiu, šita knyga - ne man. Sėsk, kuolas. :)
Bel Kaufman, the author of this book will turn 101 this week. She is the grand daughter of the great Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem. It shows in the book, which is written as a series of letters in the style of Sholem Aleichem (see The Adventures of Menachem Mendel.)
It relates the experiences of a young English teacher in Calvin Coolidge High School, a fictional but typical New York City public school.
I'm sure this book speaks to anyone who has taught high school with its problem kids, little
I had seen the 1967 movie by the same title starring Sandy Dennis, so I jumped at the chance to read the fictional book on which the movie was based.

The book is told through notes and directives and letters and memos between teachers and teachers, students and teachers, administration and teachers, and occasionally teachers and parents. Miss Barrett, fresh out of college, is hired to teach English to a variety of low performing students, and teaches a full schedule in addition to managing a home
Ok, yes, I'm a sucker for all things teacher, and especially English teacher, but this book truly is outstanding. Chronicling those first tentative steps into a classroom chock full of idealism and short on any real preparation, Kaufman shows the hearts and minds of students - and teachers and principals- for what they truly are, as well as the sea of senseless and dehumanizing paperwork that was laugh out loud funny in its clever irony and utter stupidity. And even though I teach in private sch ...more
Humorous novel with many grains of truth--just as true today as when written 50 years ago. I laughed and cried. Neophyte idealistic teacher, Sylvia Barrett's first semester teaching at an inner-city NYC high school, contending with the horrendous bureaucracy, paperwork, and red tape and trying to instill the love of learning in her students, persisting despite setbacks. The author is the granddaughter of the noted Yiddish humorist Sholom Aleichem of the Tevye the Dairyman stories.
Sep 24, 2008 Libbylooloo rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommended to Libbylooloo by: Andrea
I learned that white people back in the sixties don't talk about racism much less the complexities of race. They also talk like Julie Andrews from the sound of music. This book wasn't funny like my friend said. I want my dollar back.
A lady and i were sitting next to each other in the bart station and she mentioned that she went to an inner city school in New York when this book came out in the sixties. I asked if she thought it was weird that the book never talked about the race issues of the t
Why I picked it up:When I read this book for the first time, I was planning on becoming a music teacher, and this book is about a young, inner-city teacher. I also adore books told completely through notes, letters, memos, and such, which makes it perfect.

Why I finished it:Kaufman's characters are so very real, and so is the main character's journey. Messed-up bureaucracy, disengaged students, a teacher on the fast track to burnout--a book written decades before I was born still rings true now.
Undoubtedly the most convincing, realistic representation of a year in the (classroom) life of a teacher. Frustration, exciting, heartbreaking, and painfully real, Bel Kaufman does more than write a novel- she creates an immersive experience. Did I mention this book is fiction?
Kaufman combines her years of teaching experience to create the most realistic imaginary people I have ever encountered in a novel. She uses a sort of scrap-book style to write each chapter. One could mistake it to be a tr
Jeannette Nikolova
Maybe I should give it 3 stars, but I'm not entirely sold with this book. I decided to read it as part of the 2015 Reading Challenge, because of the antonyms in the title.
But despite it's good sides, something in this book was lost to me. I liked how resourceful the author was when it comes to places from which the notes, letters and so on, are taken. That was definitely fun to follow. I appreciated Sylvia's efforts to reach to the kids. But I feel like this is one of those books: something is
I was reminded of this book by my blogging friend, John Thompson... His excellent review inspired me to reread, and I was astonished by how timely this book is, FIFTY years after being published. FIFTY YEARS! Education is still battling the same stupid bureaucracy, the same issues in the classroom.

The book I bought from was the original white paperback...pocketbook...with orange lettering. It was well preserved, but ancient. The pages were yell
Lisa Vegan
Aug 30, 2010 Lisa Vegan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone, especially teachers & students
I loved this book. I can’t remember if I read it for the first time in high school or a year or two before, but it’s about a first year teacher with high school students and it all rang fairly true, at least for its time. Anyway, it was interesting, hilarious and very sad in parts as well. One I reread a few times.
Oct 03, 2010 rivka rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone! especially teachers and students
Stuck in the college library for two hours with no computers available. So what did I do? Started re-reading this classic masterpiece -- which somehow never made it on my GR bookshelves before!

Really a marvelous book that everyone should read -- and re-read!
An awesome account of a first-year high school English teacher, this book is one that will make any day better by taking you through the daily struggles and triumphs of the daily "educational" grind for this new teacher.
RIP Bel Kaufman...
Alexa SOF2014
This very famous novel takes place in a fictional NYC public high school, Calvin Coolidge H.S. It serves as a melting pot of the NYC school system. The main protagonist is Sylvia Barrett, a young English teacher, who wants to develop her student's interest in classic literature (especially Chaucer) and of course she wants to nurture their writing skills. Unfortunately, she begins to become discouraged during her first year of teaching. She is frustrated by the bureaucracy of the school system an ...more
I salvaged this from my grandmother's house after she passed away. I'd heard the title and the back cover synopsis (or what was left of the back cover) caught my attention.

I was a seminary teacher for a while and this made me think of specific students I had as I read about this (fictional) first-year high school teacher's experiences. I thought of the "bad" kids who just needed a little nudge in the right direction. I thought of the "good" kids who might not be as well put-together as they seem
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 Sy
Bekah Porter-Sandy
When I decided to read this book, my expectations were low. I knew nothing about it other than that it was a classic, and while I enjoy literary greats, sometimes they can be more of a chore than a truly pleasant reading experience.
I'm so glad I gave this book a chance, though. Bel Kaufman's writing surpasses the boring, arrogant writing of some esteemed authors and instead is clear, poignant, gripping, and hilarious, all while still remaining 100 percent relevant to the topic it addresses.
For t
Feb 17, 2010 James rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: humor
I read this book shortly after it was published in 1965. I am not sure what led me to the book other than perhaps the topic of high school education as I was a student at the time. It told the story of Sylvia Barrett, an idealistic English teacher at an inner-city high school (very unlike my own small-town school) who hopes to nurture her students' interest in classic literature (especially Chaucer-I was not a fan of this writer) and writing. She quickly becomes discouraged during her first year ...more
Brenda Osborne
If you are in education this is a must-read! I like the way the story is told through memos, letters and suggestion box "suggestions" rather than in a pure narrative style. This book was written in the 1960s but I am telling you right now that it is very relevant for today's teachers. Our heroine,the fictitious Miss Barrett, deals with bureaucracy, over-loaded classrooms, apathetic parents, discipline problems, deteriorating schools and lack of needed supplies. Sound familiar? Yet, this book has ...more
Claire S
Read this years ago, due to its being around the house as I was growing up. Thought it was hysterically funny, and made up absurdism; since to my young eyes everything happening at school was Good and Right. The format is fun too of course, consisting of staff memo's and notes and whatnot. For me it had the same sort of vibe as that part in the film 'Airplane' when they're saying go to this concourse or that concourse, park here or there, etc.. you know.. As a kid, it was just the humor that rea ...more
Jennifer Blakeslee
A chance encounter this evening with a stranger in an elevator - he wanted to go down, but got stuck going up - reminded me of this book. My mother had a copy from the 1960s, and I remember reading it as a kid and LOVING it. Can't wait to read it again as an adult.

UPDATE: Loved it! Read it pretty much in one sitting. We then watched the film, which was fun, but really couldn't capture the nature of the book. The book holds up almost fifty years later!
Tina Bembry
Mar 22, 2010 Tina Bembry rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: any teachers or those who involved with kids
I picked this up spontaneously at the library, and I am so glad I did! I love this book, and I'm going to share it with all my teacher friends if they haven't read it before. This edition is especially recommended because of the foreword by Kaufman that gives you so many insights. Kaufman does a first rate job of creating the individual voices of students in her classes. Although the topic of "what's wrong in our schools" is depressing, the book is full of tenderness, hilarity, the absurd, and c ...more
Funny, frustrating, heartbreaking and as relevant today as it was in 1965. Change the blackboards and chalk to whiteboards and dry erase markers and inter-school memos to e-mail and this book could have been written by any first-year inner-city teacher today. Having just completed my first year teaching at a low-income, high-minority urban school, there was so much to which I was able to relate. At first, it took me some time to appreciate the format of the book (staff memos, student suggestions ...more
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SUMMARY 1 14 Apr 13, 2013 02:23PM  
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Bel Kaufman (b. 1911) was 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 la ...more
More about Bel Kaufman...
Love, Etc. This and That: Random Thoughts and Recollections La Tigresse: and Other Short Stories Everything But A Husband Up the Down Staircase

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“Best marks go to cheaters and memorizers. Marks depend on memorizing and not on real knowledge. When you cram into your head for a test you may get a high mark but forget it the next day. That's not an education. I suggest just Good and Bad at the end of the term on report cards. Or maybe nothing.
Frank Allen”
“I'm buried beneath an avalanche of papers, I don't understand the language of the country, and what do I do about a kid who calls me "Hi, teach!"?
FROM: Room 508
TO: Room 304
Nothing. Maybe he calls you Hi, teach! because he likes you. Why not answer Hi, pupe?
The clerical work is par for the course. "Keep on file in numerical order" means throw in waste-basket. You'll soon learn the language. "Let it be a challenge to you" means you're stuck with it; "interpersonal relationships" is a fight between kids; "ancillary civic agencies for supportive discipline" means call the cops; "Language Arts Dept." is the English office; "literature based on child's reading level and experiential background" means that's all they've got in the Book Room; "non-academic-minded" is a delinquent; and "It has come to my attention" means you're in trouble.”
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