It’s our bad luck to have teachers in this world, but since we’re stuck with them, the best we can do is hope to get a brand-new one instead of a mean old fart. New teachers don’t know the rules, so you can get away with things the old-timers would squash you for.
-Peter, in Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
Do you hear that, Mrs. Baker, Ms. Frizzle, Jean Brodie, Mrs. Olinski, and Ms. Trunchbull? Give a hearty welcome (and a cup of coffee) to the newest teacher to the staffroom. The inspirational teacher story has been told many times before, but it’s not lost its charm in Mr. Terupt’s fifth grade class.
Mr. Terupt is the new teacher, but he’s perceptive and funny and a bit unconventional, and he knows how to motivate a class. Peter is intrigued when Mr. Terupt doesn’t fall for his bathroom pass trick. Brainy Luke is challenged for the first time in years by Mr. Terupt’s creative assignments. After years of never being called on by teachers, Anna realizes that Mr. Terupt won’t let her hide in the crowd. And because of Mr. Terupt, Jeffrey starts to care about school. Author Rob Buyea pieces together the school year from the perspectives of seven very different kids, each with their own troubles and secrets. And just when Mr. Terupt seems to have all the answers to his students’ personal situations, there’s a terrible accident. As his students worry and feel guilt over what happened, they must apply what Mr. Terupt has already taught them to help each other move on from this incident.
I usually don’t care for first person narratives, but Buyea deftly shuffles through seven of them. At first, the seven students seem to act as general representatives of the population: the mean queen bee, the prankster, the class brain, the new kid, and so on. But as they interact with Mr. Terupt and each other, they do flesh out into unique but believable (and relatable) characters. Ironically, it’s Mr. Terupt who remains a mystery, in the way that teachers are to their students. And although he spends most of the second half of the book out of action, Mr. Terupt the teacher becomes larger than life to the kids than Mr. Terupt the person. Still, that goes to show the influence that good teachers can have over their students, which spills over to their families and to the community. And in case this sounds too heartwarming and too good to be true (did I mention there’s a happy ending, just as Mr. Terupt promised?), there is a great exploration of how children cope with guilt and blame, even if it’s purely self-imposed. All in all, an enjoyable school year.