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Rick Braithwaite faces a number of conflicts in the book To Sir With Love. One of the foremost is his inability to secure employment after being demobilized from the RAF. Braithwaite is an experienced engineer, and he leaves the Air Force believing that he will have no trouble getting a job as a civilian. Unfortunately, in the social fabric of post World War II Britain, a thinly disguised but virulent attitude of racism prevails. Braithwaite applies for a long series of positions, but is hired for none of them because of his race.
Braithwaite takes the advice of a random old gentleman he meets at a park, to look for employment in a completely different field. The kindly man suggests teaching, and Braithwaite is indeed able to get a job as an instructor at Greenslade School.
As a teacher, Braithwaite must resolve many conflicts concerning his students. Early on during his tenure, his authority is challenged by one student in particular, Denham. Denham goads Braithwaite into facing him in a boxing match. Braithwaite manages to beat Denham fairly, without actually harming him, earning Denham's respect from that day forward.
Pamela Dare, a student who has developed a crush on Braithwaite, returns after a holiday distracted and subdued. A short time later, Pamela's mother seeks out Braithwaite and asks him for help in dealing with her daughter. Although Braithwaite is not at all comfortable with the situation, he sits down with both Pamela and her mother and helps them reestablish channels of communication.
Braithwaite also finds himself embroiled in a conflict between Potter and another teacher, Bell. Bell has an abrasive personality, and because he forces a student to do an exercise which the student does not feel up to doing, that student is in an accident and is hurt. One of Braithwaite's students, Potter, attacks Bell in anger, and Braithwaite finds himself in the position of having to defuse the situation. To Potter's surprise, Braithwaite reprimands him for his behavior, even while admitting that Bell was out of line. The lesson which Braithwaite wants to instill in Potter is that, even in the face of injustice, a mature adult is accountable for how he responds. Potter does eventually see the wisdom in what Braithwaite is trying to teach him, and reluctantly but nobly takes the high road and apologizes to the errant teacher.
The biggest conflict Braithwaite has to face, though, is in regards to racism as it affects him in his own life. It is a constant struggle for him, but with patience and perseverance, he is, as he tells Gillian Blanchard, "learning how to mind and still live...gradually...learning what it means to live with dignity inside (his) black skin" (Chapter 18).
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