Up the Down Staircase (film)

1967 film by Robert Mulligan

Up the Down Staircase is a 1967 film about the experiences of a young female English teacher in an inner-city New York high school.

Directed by Robert Mulligan. Written by Tad Mosel, based on the novel by Bel Kaufman.
Simple words that could start a war. (taglines)

Sylvia Barrett

  • When I finally get the chance, the first few precious minutes to talk to them about something I want them to understand, and I find that I am some kind of enemy... the butt of some enormous joke.
  • If you deny what you know, or what you are, or where you are, you deny the simplest part of being alive, and then you die.

Paul Barringer

  • Ever tried "punctuation sex", Henrietta? Hyphens are kisses, commas are maybes, and a period is a definite no. And then of course, there's the... limitless realms of semicolons and apostrophes. I shudder to think what an exclamation point might mean.
  • They say a writer should stick to what he knows. What nonsense. What did Dickens know about the French Revolution? What did Shakespeare know about Moors in Venice? If he'd stuck to what he knew, we'd have no Othello. We'd have no Alice in Wonderland. We'd have no Treasure Island. You brats think that I and Miss Barrett stand up there day after day, talking about books, and the writing of books, just for the hell of it? You think it's got nothing to do with YOU?
  • A writer creates a book, an individual creates a life! For a writer to create a masterpiece, he's got to think beyond what he knows! For an individual to create a life, even a half-way decent one, he's gotta go beyond what he knows. Go beyond the poverty, the dope, the disease, the degeneracy. Go beyond the oceans to the Alps (he pointed to a map), a magnificent replica of which the Board of Education has generously donated. Stick with what you think, and that's what you're gonna be stuck with! You may as well get out. Now! All of you... Miss Barrett's class dismissed. All of you dismissed for the rest of your crummy lives. Some of you prefer to leave by the window. I prefer to leave by the door. Punch me out. Will ya, Teach?

Joe Ferone

  • [to Miss Barrett] I've just seen your type before, that's all. There's one every year. "Not living up to your potential," they say. Is that what you were going to say, teach? "Just wanna help you, Joe?" "Just wanna be your friend?" Then they get to feeling very sorry for your about your "environmental factors", and your "low socio-economic level". Till you've just have to tell 'em; "Get your nose outta my environmental factors, will ya? Keep your damn hands off my potential"... and then they turn you in.


[Mr. McHabe notices Miss Barrett walking towards class with a homemade suggestion box]
Mr. McHabe: Oh. Suggestions, Miss Barrett, ahh? I must say you've got guts.
Sylvia Barrett: It's just an idea, Mr. McHabe. It seems to me that if the students have a chance to speak freely without fear of punishment...
Mr. McHabe: Listen, you start running this school with ideas, you'll have riots in your rooms. Fear - That's all they understand.

Sylvia Barrett: The theme of MacBeth is that too much ambition can lead to ruthless ambition, and end up in disaster. That's what words are for - to be used. Who can tell me what "ruthless" means? Joe?
[Gets no response]
Sylvia Barrett: Eddie?
Eddie Williams: Steps all over.
Sylvia Barrett: Use it in a sentence.
Eddie Williams: Steps all over, like white people. I know because I'm colored.


  • Simple words that could start a war.
  • The first mistake this pretty young teacher made was to get off the bus. The second was to walk into Calvin Coolidge High School for the first time. The third was to fall in love with it.
  • Up The Down Staircase, is the story of a girl who fell in love with a monster... (The Girl is Sylvia Barrett. Occupation: Brand new teacher)
  • Simple words that start a war: "Good morning. My name is Miss Barrett. I am your Home Room teacher..."