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Teaching Mr. Cutler

by Robert Currie

Robert Currie’s first novel, Teaching Mr. Cutler, draws on the author’s 40 years of teaching experience to tell the story of Brad Cutler, a nervous naif in his first year in front of a class at T.E. Lawrence Collegiate in Moose Jaw.

Poor Mr. Cutler. He’s 23, he’s left the family farm to pursue his dream, and he’s so shy that he blushes when the wind blows. He’s got a lot to learn. Teaching Mr. Cutler will be his colleagues and students from the school of soft knocks. His co-workers include Mr. Workman, the menacing principal; Herb, the supportive vice-principal; Maury, a chronic complainer; and Phil, the gay history teacher who seems to tell a lot of people that he’s still in the closet.

At the centre of these stock characters is Mr. Cutler, who is so anxious about making it as a teacher that he never emotionally connects with anyone. He begins dating Kelly, the school secretary (“She really is stacked”), but that fizzles out 50 pages later. Later, he sleeps with another colleague, Sue Burton: “He caught his breath. Excitement like he’d never known, and yet it seemed so natural – and utterly amazing too.” This is terribly thin writing, especially from an award-winning poet.

A lot of the novel takes place in the classroom, with overlong exchanges that read like lesson plans. Cutler’s interactions with his students have the lifeless authenticity of transcripts. We only learn about the kids through Mr. Cutler’s eyes, and this teacher doesn’t know much about his students. Why is Bert angry all the time? We never find out. Why is Angela troubled? It doesn’t matter. She commits suicide early on and there are no ripples or aftermath.