Critical Context

As a 1947 secondary-school teacher, Braithwaite compares favorably with the master teachers of the late twentieth century: Jaime Escalante, the subject of the book Escalante: The Best Teacher in America (1988), by Jay Mathews, and the feature film Stand and Deliver (1989); Jessica Siegel, the subject of Small Victories: The Real World of a Teacher, Her Students, and Their High School (1990), by Samuel G. Freedman; and Christine Zajac, one of the subjects of Among Schoolchildren (1989), by Tracy Kidder. Escalante, Siegel, and Zajac all taught in working-class neighborhood schools and stimulated their students to significantly higher achievement than anyone else expected. In a similar environment, Braithwaite too worked wonders with his students.

As To Sir, with Loves is an autobiographical fragment of Braithwaite’s life, covering only about eight months, the book differs greatly in scope from many biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. The short time span of the story, however, adds to its impact. The author’s self-disclosure, personal and expressive writing style, and story-telling ability work together to create a moving and inspirational work. Young readers can identify with Braithwaite and revel in his successes. Young adult readers will also relate to the other Characters: students, teachers, and parents, who are always understandable and frequently fascinating.

A well-crafted film adaptation of the book was released in 1967, with award-winning actor Sidney Poitier playing the role of Braithwaite. The film was deservedly popular with young adults. Both the book and the film are memorable, and both serve to remind young readers and viewers that they achieve more—and are happier in their accomplishments—under the direction of adult mentors who care enough to make them measure up to strict standards and high expectations.