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.
Tell us something about yourself.
I was born in Los Angeles in the middle of the last century and left to attend college at the University of California, Santa Cruz during the turbulent late 1960’s. After graduating with a degree in American history, I decided to sacrifice any chances at a “real” career and remain in Santa Cruz. In my early days in Santa Cruz I was a dishwasher, live Christmas tree harvester ans school bus driver. Eventually I became a mid-level bureaucrat, and during the last 40 years I got married, raised a family that included two children and over a half-dozen dogs.
I travelled extensively, before children, all over the world, including the North America, Europe, and southeast Asia. I’ve always written and once I even attempted to write the great American novel, but after about a dozen pages I realized I had nothing of substance to say.
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.
How did you choose the title?
I had been thinking of titles the whole time I was working on the book. I was pretty closed to calling it The Whiteboard Jungle: Mangling Metaphors, Engaging Students and Alienating Administrators. Luckily, one morning The Accidental Teacher popped into my head. (Note, while I must acknowledge The Accidental Tourist as an inspiration for the title, this was before the flood of The Accidental Whatevers hit the bookshelves.)
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
Aside from the typical frustrations of dozens of rejections from agents and publishers, my major problem was converting my journal into a coherent narrative. It took me six months to come up with a solution that would keep the readers interests from beginning to end. As for the rejections from traditional publishers and agents, I did what most writers do today, I independently published the book myself.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I never “knew” I wanted to be a writer. I’ve always loved to read and loved to write and I decided to write a book when I found myself in a situations others might be interested in reading about.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Only ritual is that I tend to write in the morning when my energy level is at its height and the house is at it’s quietest.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
The real names of the main antagonists I had to change because of what other might consider unflattering portrayals and were either actual Dickensian -–Carol Havisham, Peter Pecksniff–– or sounded as if they were characters out of Dickens –– Ethan Putzmire. To protect the innocent, and to shield myself from possible litigation, I changed the names of the students, the names I choose were pretty similar to their real names.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book?
That I have a distinctive voice and I can write. And that the quality of the book alone has nothing to do with sales.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
I’d have hired a publicist to handle all the marketing.
What types of books do you like to read?
Novels and non-fiction.
Who are your favorite authors?
Favorite modern authors are Nick Hornby, Charles Bukowski, Wallace Stegner, Franzan, Chabon, Hunter Thompson, Frank McCourt and Dave Eggers. I’m also a sucker for Dickens and Twain.
Each of these authors has a distinctive voice and most have wonderful senses of humor
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
Currently working on a project that may or may not turn into a book. Working title is A Prisoner of the 60’s and it will center around four specific concerts I attended in the late 1960’s. Each concert will provide me the opportunity to not only describe the actual concerts but to expound and make observations, some edifying and some irrelevant, on many events of the times.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
If you want your book to be read, be prepared to spend as much time on the marketing of the book as you did on the writing of it.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
Teachers, teachers in training, school administrators, people interested in the state of public education in this country, those thinking of changing careers in mid-life, and anyone who enjoy a compelling humorous and provocative narrative.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
Book’s website: http://www.theaccidentalteacher.net/