Interview with the reclusive author of The Accidental Teacher

Until now, the author of The Accidental Teacher has been an enigma wrapped in a fog of misunderstanding. He's often been compared to the uber-reclusive, and very late, J.D. Salinger. But now you can learn about the real man behind the myth.

What inspired you to write this book?

Before taking the job as an English teacher, I had no interest in writing about myself. However when I suddenly found myself in a situation [teaching high school after a long career in another field with no experience teaching and after being essentially left to my own inadequate devices] that might appeal to others, I decided, despite all the other pressures, to keep a journal. At first, the journal was primarily a device to keep my friends informed of my progress via weekly emails. It seemed an effective time-saving device allowing me to tell a story just once, instead of rehashing it over and over for each person who asked, “So how’s it going this week?”

In essence the book wrote itself as I acted as the conduit for transmitting the events in my classroom to the outside world.

read entire interview


The Latest News About The Accidental Teacher

The Accidental Teacher, along with such classics as Goodbye Mr Chips and Frank McCourt's Teacher Man are included in Online Universities annual summer reading list of inspiring books for teachers. Edutopia and TeachHub recently featured excerpts from The Accidental Teacher on their websites.

The
Virtual Scribe published rave 5-star review. "The Accidental Teacher reads much like shock and awe peppered with wry wit and droll humor... This book is highly recommended to school administrators, teachers, and soon-to-be teachers. Parents might find this to be good insight into just what their tax dollars are paying for as well."

Deborah Meier, renown educator and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, praises The Accidental Teacher

"I just finished The Accidental Teacher and loved every minute of it. I plan to reread it, and pass it on to others. Maybe I'll start with my ex-husband and current housemate; then my kids, then my grandkids, and then my colleagues. Thank you Eric for writing the book."

A masterpiece...

Sometimes great things come of difficult circumstances. Such is the case with The Accidental Teacher by Eric Mandel. This book is the perfect blend of wonderful storytelling and disturbing facts about the politics and ridiculous rules within the public school system.

I am an alumnus of the school in the book, as well as a former employee. I, too, had Ms. Havisham (Mandel’s main antagonist) as a boss. Believe everything Eric writes. Like he says, you can't make this "stuff" up. It's a story of abuse of power, incompetence and downright meanness of spirit. But this book isn't a negative rage against the machine. It's a very positive story of what can be accomplished by someone who cares more about the students than the bureaucratic BS.

If there were more teachers like Eric, we could probably worry less about our future. As a non-credentialed teacher thrown into the lion's den of "resource classes", Eric's journal of his experiences will make you laugh, will make you cry, will make you angry. It's a wonderful story of a long journey with few rewards and many pitfalls, but the rewards realized make it all worthwhile.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is a great read, and I hope there are more books in the pipeline from Mr. Mandel.
– Babewho

Nearly Universal Acclaim for The Accidental Teacher by Eric Mandel

The Accidental Teacher is a fascinating account of a challenging year in what is for most of us above a certain age an alien world – the contemporary American high school. It’s a perceptive, witty and often touching tale of success and failure, discord and harmony, frustration and satisfaction. More than a commentary on education today, it offers insight into how one man, at least, was able to deal with it all.”
– Marc Okrand, creator of the Klingon language used in Star Trek, author The Klingon Dictionary, and renown linguist specializing in Mutson, the language spoken by the original inhabitants of Hollister, California––the setting for The Accidental Teacher.

The Accidental Teacher is a compelling read––once I began reading I couldn’t put it down until the end. A bittersweet, funny Quixotic-like narrative of the author’s struggle to reconcile the reality of his classroom with the bureaucratic nightmare he found himself in."
– Tim Hunter, Acclaimed Director Twin Peaks, Madmen, Deadwood and Homicide

“I am tired, ready to go to sleep, but this is just too good, too engaging. A combination of Jonathan Kozol and Frank McCourt. It all seems too true. Heartbreaking and uplifting, and above all genuine. After just a few months of teaching Eric Mandel clearly respects and understands his students, especially the more eccentric, troubled, and somewhat neglected ones who can cause a teacher a lot of grief and whose value is not readily apparent either to themselves or others.”
– Andrew Lachman, Educator and Journalist, Master of Arts: Yale, Stanford, Columbia and Antioch

“I am way too busy to read your stupid, self-centered narcissistic journal, Dad.”
– Lily Mandel, Slacker

The Whiteboard Jungle: Teaching Without a Net

The Accidental Teacher is a humorous and provocative account of the author’s experience teaching English in a California public high school with absolutely no qualifications, training or previous experience. Equal parts McCourt’s Teacher Man and Kesey’s Cuckoo’s Nest with a dash of Sedaris and a shot of Hunter Thompson, the story follows Mr. Mandel as he muddles through his first year, mangling metaphors and alienating administrators while attempting to engage a very difficult group of teenagers.

From his outsider’s perspective, Mr. Mandel provides pointed commentaries on the troubling issues facing public education and poignant accounts of his students’ lives and his own personal journey; frequent digressions offer literary allusions from the subtle to the ludicrous. The author displays a wry sense of humor as he struggles to counter administrative absurdities, to appease his own Nurse Ratchet, and to compensate for his own deficiencies.

The Accidental Teacher is certain to entertain and interest anyone who has taught, wants to teach, cares about public education, or dreams of changing careers late in life.


"When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Yogi Berra

Bullfighting in Spain with Hemingway, quarterbacking the Detroit Lions, a stint as goalie for the Boston Bruins, pitching to the Hall of Fame laden 1960 National League All-Star starting lineup, and going three rounds with boxing legends Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson; these are just a few of the exploits of writer and bon vivant George Plimpton. Plimpton not only survived each of these challenges to go on and pen dozens of poignant stories describing his exploits, but he also made a mountain of money in the process. More surprisingly, Vanilla Ice made a bundle of bling pretending to be a rapper, and Milli Vanilli won a Grammy for best vocal without singing a single word.

So then how hard could it be for me, or just about anyone else for that matter, to cash in on this literary and cultural tradition of pretense and fraud; to stand in front of a captive group of teenagers, spout platitudes while pretending to be a high school English teacher for ten months––while being paid handsomely for my performance––and then to write a book about it???

I can hear all the bleeding hearts now:

What a pompous ass!

What about the poor kids?

So what!

If I can’t pull it off and I turn out to be a miserable teacher, what harm is done? Yeah okay, some kids don’t learn as much as they might have, but no one dies; besides the kids might even prefer my charade to the inside-the-box routines of some teachers they have had in the past. I mean this is nothing like the havoc inflicted by the most nefarious charlatan of our times whose scams have resulted in carnage and untold misery. That simple Connecticut Yankee native frat boy’s ignoble performances include: toy soldier, Texas snake-oil salesman, major league team owner, cowboy governor, and of course the greatest and most stunning fake feat of all time: this recovering alcoholic and former cokehead’s appointment to the office of the Presidency of the United States in spite of the fact his opponent outpolled him by more than a half-million votes.

Now that’s a fucking flim-flam man!

Okay, now that I have hopefully piqued your interest with this steaming pile of hubris, let the real story begin.


__________________________________________


TABLE OF CONTENTS


Preface: A Fork Not Taken...................... xi
Up in the Morning and Out to School....... 1
The Whiteboard Jungle......................... 25
The Pretender........................................47
Pissing in the Wind...............................69
The Best Laid Plans.............................. 101
Born to Ruin........................................ 127
Evaluation Row....................................159
In Dubious Battle..................................187
Beer and Loathing in Steinbeck Country.. 217
Running on Empty................................ 241
Muttering Small Talk at the Wall............275
The Grand Allusion...............................299
Acknowledgments.................................317

_____________________________________________

What Mr. Mandel's former students have to say...

What  Mr. Mandel's former students have to say...
"mr mandel i was excited to hear about the book. i never got a chance to thank you for encouraging me to do the poetry slam. you were one of my favorite teachers and you were also one of the few that made class fun and made me want to learn because it seemed like you actually cared and wanted to help us. thank you mr mandel." –Cal "

"Bravo! yes yes still acting i'm a theater major. now your book was a surprise! i'm so happy for you! and i found that i was portrayed just fine! we did have a great class and we so did love pushing your buttons!! i will all ways remember that class and all the great, crazy, amazing people in it!" –Gina

"M A N D E L ! ! My second favorite teacher. Just kidding buddy. How have you been? I did hear about the book and i wanted to get it. Thats the only book i would probably read! lol. The last day of school i tor out your address from one of your magazines and kept it in my wallet this hole time. stan and i were going to come see you one day. About a mounth ago i lost my wallet and a few days later i heard about you book. Just letting you know the first thing i did when i read this was call stan! Do you still live in Santa cruz?" –Oliver aka Beavis

When reminded she had once called Mr. Mandel boring, Lisa texted, “lol i totally membr that.....i actually take that back....u wer the coolest teachr just ddnt want to tell u.....ive bin doin good still in skool in san jose.....and in the pic (above) i was txting GOOD EYE” -Lisa

First international review arrives on our shores...

First international review arrives on our shores...
Funny and thought-provoking, cool and inspiring The Accidental Teacher is a must-read for all educators around the world. With heartbreaking honesty, Eric Mandel shares the problems he faces in a public high school where he is appointed to teach for the first time in his life. Working with teenagers from under-privileged backgrounds who refuse to engage with any task is a challenge he willingly takes. And what if there is no support or counseling? He takes the plunge. Mandel’s gift to analyze his students’ characters is incomparable. No writer has ever captured the whims and caprices of kids as he has done in this book. That’s why I consider it an essential and valuable resource for teachers and I think it’s really worth a read. -Fotini Sarafianou

MORE GROWN-UP REVIEWS OF THE ACCIDENTAL TEACHER...


A real masterpiece...


Sometimes great things come of difficult circumstances. Such is the case with "The Accidental Teacher" by Eric Mandel. This book is the perfect blend of wonderful storytelling and disturbing facts about the politics and ridiculous rules within the public school system.

I am an alumnus of the school in the book, as well as a former employee. I, too, had Ms. Havisham as a boss. Believe everything Eric writes. Like he says, you can't make this "stuff" up. It's a story of abuse of power, incompetence and downright meanness of spirit. But this book isn't a negative rage against the machine. It's a very positive story of what can be accomplished by someone who cares more about the students than the bureaucratic BS.

If there were more teachers like Eric, we could probably worry less about our future. As a non-credentialed teacher thrown into the lion's den of "resource classes", Eric's journal of his experiences will make you laugh, will make you cry, will make you angry. It's a wonderful story of a long journey with few rewards and many pitfalls, but the rewards realized make it all worthwhile.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is a great read, and I hope there are more books in the pipeline from Mr. Mandel.
– Babewho


Simply put, the funniest book I've read in years...

This memoir hits home in so many ways as the author struggles to make the best of a less than ideal situation. Mandel has a wonderful, easy-going narrative style that pulled me in from the opening paragraph: "Last year I made a decision that turned my life turned upside down. And prior to the upheaval, my life was already teetering on disaster."

The book is full of humorous anecdotes about Mandel's students, colleagues and some incredibly incompetent administrators. The author takes the reader off on numerous interesting digressions, some relevant, some not. I enjoyed discovering the treasure trove of literary allusions Mandel cleverly planted throughout his narrative. At times, it felt as though I was reading an adult version of Where's Waldo?

The book is a must-read for anyone who is curious about what goes on behind closed doors in a high school classroom. Mandel spares no one, including himself, his rapier wit as he dissects sacred cows and educational mumbo-jumbo.

I could go on and on about the rewards in store for future readers of The Accidental Teacher, but suffice it to say. Read this book! If you don't find yourself laughing your ass off throughout, something is seriously wrong with you.
- Fred Dobbs


A realistic romp through the public education obstacle course...

The Accidental Teacher by Eric Mandel is, at once, witty, perceptive, sensitive and immensely entertaining. He manages to weave his feelings of trepidation, frustration and anxiety as a neophyte teacher, with his growing understanding, appreciation and love for his students. His experiences echo those of many, many first year (and beyond) teachers with lesson planning, classroom control, understanding the social purview of high school students, as well as dealing with the often ridiculous demands of administration. His humor is infectious. If you've taught, you will laugh loudly at the at the turn of every page and nod with understanding at the sheer folly of the evaluation "gauntlet" he was required to walk. You will share his frustration at the ineptitude of his administration and his joy at a lesson well received. You'll watch him grow as a teacher and caretaker of his charges. You will recognize your own students in the students in his classroom--their personalities, their dreams, their often confused perception of reality. Most of all, you will view kids through the eyes of a man who quickly came to understand them and hoped to make a difference in their lives. More than a critical accounting of the ups and downs of a year in the classroom, The Accidental Teacher is a testimony to an indomitable spirit and will to succeed. The Accidental Teacher is a "must read" for anyone in a public school system, or anyone concerned with public education. If you're a teacher, it is wonderfully refreshing and insightful. If an administrator, perhaps you'll gain some insight as to what it's like on the other end of the desk.
- JG, Retired High School Counselor


Exhilarating, compassionate and entertaining story..

An articulate and compelling story about a skeptical and compassionate teacher whose far ranging intellect and dedication help him successfully guide a diverse and sometimes eccentric and unruly collection of bright underachieving students who want to succeed academically and socially within an educational system that too often has ignored and undervalued them.

The book is an exhilarating can-do saga of a first year middle-aged teacher who finds redemption through service to others even as he navigates through a maze of administrative dictums and structures that often seem arbitrary, ill conceived, and designed to create ritualized learning devoid of the inquisitive and guided chaos that propels students forward and to make new and exciting interdisciplinary connections. Mandel's keen observations reflect the hard earned wisdom that often eludes the most season educators who avoid productive confrontation and risk. Mandel's book is a rollicking good read infused with the rebellion, creative partly-baked-ideas as well as innovative academic lessons, and the sly inspiring optimism of the 60s. A transformative story destined to be a classic.
- Mr Tibbs, retired high school English teacher


Honest, funny and touching...

Eric Mandel is an extremely funny guy, brutally honest and witty. He's spot-on when it comes to seeing the best and the worst in his quirky students, an odd lot of fellow teachers, and the supposedly supportive administrators at the public high school where he spends a year learning quite literally how to teach on the job. Nothing sugar-coated in this book, definitely not for you if you're looking for a "pie in the sky" book about teaching. But make no mistake, Eric Mandel really cares about his students - it's all about the kids, and that is what ultimately makes this book very real.
- M. Mitchell


Hilarious, insightful read featuring the zany methods of a chalkboard rookie...

Mr. Mandel has penned a highly humorous, deeply entertaining account that captures the blight of the American public school system using Augusten Burroughs-esque wit. A
must-read for the heartfelt story alone, but the comedic flare really boosts it up the autobiography genre totem pole!
- A. Bontadelli


Laughing through my tears.....

Mr. Mandel is a very funny writer! This book made me laugh out loud page after page. Of course at times I was also "laughing through my tears", as the many problems with education in the US, so clearly described in these pages, are not really a laughing matter. I think teachers, students and anyone who has survived public high school will enjoy reading Mr. Mandel's description of his year teaching. I certainly did.
- Ms. Alaineus

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Book Signing and Reading Events

Recently I have been doing book signings/readings in people's homes and classrooms. The readings have been enjoyable and rewarding for both the author and his audience. If you are interested in hosting a signing event in your home or workplace in the greater Bay Area, please email me at emandel00@yahoo.com (the 00 are zeroes). I would be more than happy to help you plan the event.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Greatest Dog to Ever Grace this World or Any Other..


It seems like just about everyone has actually owned a smart dog or has a story about one particular canine whiz kid.  Just as debates rage on about who has the weirdest mother-in-law, arguments abound about who's dog is/was smarter. I'd like to put the latter question to bed for good. Hands down, without question, the smartest dog in history was my dog Stokely. I'd even argue, being smarter than many people I've known, Stokely was a human stuck in a dogs body. And the frustration he must have felt, goes a long way in explaining his arrogance, his attitude and his constant barking. I mean how would you react, if you woke up one morning and discovered you were suddenly trapped, with all your mental facilities in tact, in a dog's body???

I was a 19 yr-old junior at UCSC, living in a house in the woods. I was home in bed sick with what was diagnosed as mono -but probably wasn't seeing how I recovered within a week- when my ex-girlfriend, who i wasn't on very good terms with at the time (She was a sweet, guilt-ridden Catholic girl, and my hostility towards her probably had something to do with the fact she cheated on me with a married, 25 year-old food service worker, who also happened to be a junkie), shows up unexpectedly with the cutest puppy in her arms she had just picked up at the local pound, and says something to the effect, "Hey Eric, look what I brought you to make you feel better?"

I replied with something mean like "He's cute but what the fuck do you think you are doing, i never said i wanted a dog and am sick".

Then she started crying. Boys hate it when girls cry. I was exhausted from the fever, and to get her to leave, I promised to give the dog a weeklong trial.

The puppy was a lively, grayish-black, curly-tailed Keeshond-Shepherd mix. I was hooked and immediatly feel in love. Although being sick, as you can imagine, it wasn't much fun cleaning up puppy shit and pee for the few days it took me to train him. It took me awhile to come up with an appropriate name and finally I had narrowed the choices to Plato and Stokely. Thank god, I went with Stokely, because if he had been a Plato he probably would have turned out to be a real doofus.

In a short time we became inseparable, I took him everywhere, even to class. Once, when Stoke was still a pup, he and I were together in a large philosophy class, when a student, as a prank, dressed as a giant dildo ran in circles around the professor (the renown Norman O. Brown). Stokely bounced up from under my seat and excitedly charged the stage, bearing his canines, barking and nipping at the dildo's legs until the dildo fled the stage with my pup in hot pursuit. Within a year, dogs were banned on campus. As far as I know dildo are still legal.

Stoke was my best friend. He was not the most patient dog; did not suffer fools easily; never got along with other dogs, unless they were in heat; and wasn't crazy about kids either. ("Just leave me alone, comeback when you're all grown-up.") I'd be the first to admit Stoke, at times, could be a real asshole. On a trip to Canada in 1975, he totally ignored Mary's 14 yr-old sister Anne, during the entire trip, despite the dozens of hotdogs Anne attempted to bribe him with. Sure he eagerly scarfed down Anne's offering, but he never let that affect his total disregard for her. But to my Stoke-loving friends, my family and me, he was a loyal compassionate sidekick. And when rolled on his back and provoked by a vigourous tummy rub, Stoke would repeatly moan "i wuuuuuv you".

During his lifetime he performed numerous remarkable feats, but me being not quite ready to write another book, and to prevent this from turning into an epic Stokely saga, i think it best I describe but two.

One Feat:  The Gray Guy must have been about 2 or 3, I was still in college and we were living out in the country in a large house with many roommates about 5 miles from downtown Santa Cruz (btw, he was never fixed and rarely on a leash) If i had to study for test, write a paper or was coerced into to having sex with a coed, I would often leave Stoke at home for a few days with my roommates. One afternoon after I'd been gone a few days, I was in Odyssey record store downtown, when who should come into the store prancing, smiling, tail in air, right to my favorite record section?

Yep, it was Stoke. He looked as if had been expecting to see me there, walked up to me, barking of course, with one of those real casual-like where-the-fuck-you-been looks. 

Two feat: When the Stoker grew up, he would wonder the neighborhood alone, sometimes for hours. (I can't believe I was so irresponsible, ahh to be young, inconsiderate and stupid again.) One evening, when Stokely was 9 or 10, and I was living in town in my current house, and I hadn't seen or heard from the ex who had given me the dog for years, and really had no idea where she lived, the phone rings and it's her. She says excitedly "Eric you better come over here and get Stokely"

She then goes on to tell me she has been living in Berkeley, and was in town visiting a friend about 3 miles from my place, when about 30 minutes ago, she hears a dog barking on the porch. She opens the door to find the Stoker, smiling, barking excitingly and apparently really happy to have found her. The dog had never been to the house before and had not seen his original rescuer in over 3 years. This particular feat certainly demonstrates canine ESP. 

i could go on and on about our travels to the Sierra, Canada and New York City, the many many Kodak moments, the few times Stoke was left at a gas station, store or rest stop, only to wait patiently for the dumbass (not always me) who had left him to realize the mistake and come back and get him. But i won't. He was far from perfect. Stokely could be a real arrogant son of a bitch. His look-at-me shtick of prancing, curly tail in the air, kind of like that Rembrandt subject with a plume in cap, acting like he had no worries and he no doubt thought himself the cooled dude on the planet, could put some people off.

I'm tearing up now. Stokely lived to be about 13. Sad ending, he went deaf and my once proud friend slowly wasted away. Almost broke my heart.  He, along with 4 other dogs and 3 cats, is buried in the backyard. I think of him daily and every once in a while I visit his grave and talk to him. I do however, worry one day, one of my living dogs will someday disinter him...I do love all my dogs, the living, the gone, the smart and the not-so-bright, but there will never be another Stoke.

Okay, if you wanna hear about the strangest mother-in-law to ever grace this world or any other, do I have some stories for you..

Monday, July 18, 2011

I Murdered My Kindle: Conclusion


July 15

To quote the eminently quotable Accidental Teacher:

You know how it is when you are stressed and worried about some challenging upcoming event and your tell you to relax and everything will work out fine? And then how, despite their well-meaning advice, you go on stressing and worrying anyway? And then, of course,when the situation finally arrives, everything turns out fine just as your friends predicted? All that nervous energy and wasted time!

Well, if you tone down the hyperbole a tad, the quotation pretty much sums up the whole I-murdered-my-Kindle, death-in-the-family, pity-the-poor-grieving-Eric tragedy.

If you recall, the last episode ended with me contemplating my upcoming phone call to Amazon customer service.

Tuesday afternoon, 4:07 PDT:       I email Amazon request to call me regarding damaged KIndle.
Tuesday afternoon, 4:07:05 PDT:  Phone rings, Amazon calling. I answer.

After a relatively short conversation explaining my Kindle tragedy with a very apologetic and very polite Amazon agent, the agent quickly offers to replace my dead Kindle with a living one. First, the good news: I will be getting a new Kindle for $40, which I think is a reasonable price, considering my own stupid actions caused the demise of the original Kindle. Now, the bad news, had I either purchased my original KIndle two weeks later, or broke it two weeks earlier, the replacement would have been free. Seems Amazon has a no-questions-asked free Kindle one-year replacement policy. 

Thursday morning, 11:15 PDT: Brand new Kindle arrives

You might think the Kindle's arrival a nice and tidy ending to my story. If so, you don't know me well. I seem to suffer from some kind of genetic malady that seems to affect a majority of "my people", which forces me, unwittingly, to both turn a positive into a negative and to pick the worst of two possible options.

As you recall, when the Kindle died I was in the midst of a simmering relationship with My Antonia. Unable, however, to remain faithful to my Antonia, I quickly moved to a real brick and mortar relationship with Julian Treslove, the antagonist/protaganist in Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question. So when my new Kindle arrived I was about three-quarters of the way through The Finkler Question. leaving me a real Sophie's choice: to either go back to the young, but not too young, spirited, beautiful, enigmatic Antonia, or to stay with the depressed, pathetic, anxiety-ridden, narcissitic, neurotic, WASP/wanna-be Jew middle-aged Julian Treslove.

Guess who I ended up with??



Saturday, July 16, 2011

I Murdered My Kindle: Part Two


July 12

Thanks to everyone who offered their condolences over my loss. Considering the graveness of the situation, I'm doing okay and want to assure my friends, I will not be doing anything too rash. After my relationship with My Antonia was cut brutally short by the death of my beloved Knidle, I decided it best to try and forget the beautiful Antonia and move on to someone else. I'm pleased to report, I'm now happily involved with someone new, Julian Treslove from The Finkler Question.

In regards to my quest to successfully finagle a new Kindle at no cost, I want to report that i received the following compassionate, yet noncommittal, reply from Amazon customer service:

Hello,

I'm sorry to hear about the problems you are experiencing with your Kindle.

In this situation, I request you to please give us a call to speak with one of our Kindle specialist who will be able to discuss the problem in detail and try some real-time troubleshooting and see if you need a replacement.

Please be informed that we will need to speak with you over the phone in order to process a replacement for your Kindle. I realize that at this point of time asking you to contact us again would be disappointing, however, we would really like to assist you better.

Your patience and understanding is highly appreciated in this matter.



Wish me luck as my thrilling adventure continues.