Sylvia Barrett arrives at New York City's Calvin Coolidge High fresh from earning literature degrees at Hunter College and eager to shape young minds. Instead she encounters broken windows, a lack of supplies, a stifling bureaucracy, and students with no interest in Chaucer. Her bumpy yet ultimately rewarding journey is depicted through an extraordinary collection of correspondence - sternly worded yet nonsensical administrative memos, furtive notes of wisdom from teacher to teacher, 'polio consent slips', and student homework assignments that unwittingly speak from the heart.
Up the Down Staircase stands as the seminal novel of a beleaguered public school system that is redeemed by teachers who love to teach and students who long to be recognised. It is poignant, devastating, laugh-out-loud funny, and - in our current moment of debate around the future of education - more relevant than ever.