In Chapter Six, Braithwaite reports to Greenslade School on London's East Side, where the principal, a rather unconventional headmaster, Alex Florian, presides.
On the walk to the school, Braithwaite, educated in schools in British Guinea, is shocked by the language he hears from the students outside the school. When he enters the building, he encounters Mrs. Drew and inquires if such diction from the students should be expected in his classroom. Wisely, she replies that most of the time students who speak in such a manner are "just showing off" or trying to shock. She suggests that he ignore it, or deal with it in the best way he knows. So, he heads to his classroom with smiles and encouragement from two of the female teachers.
Mr. Braithwaite enters amid students' talk and ambling about the classroom. He sits down and waits; they gradually take their seats, as well. All the students but one reply brusquely with a "yep" or "here." While going through the perfunctory routine of taking up lunch money and other tasks, Braithwaite counts forty-two out of the forty-six students assigned to him. He notices the manner of dress that the students have; it is one that suggests an armoring of oneself against authority: scruffy, coarse, slightly dirty, with uniform hairdos for the boys and cheap make-up and tawdry outfits on the girls. In a short time, the students are called to an assembly. There, Braithwaite notices that when music is played and a hymn recited, the students react very positively to both. Mr. Florian introduces Mr. Braithwaite as the new teacher to the assembly.
After his students return to the classroom, Mr. Braithwaite explains that he must get to know them and their abilities, so he calls upon each student to read aloud to him. Most of the students read poorly; one girl can recite the words but the reading is disjointed. While the others are reading, there is some snickering in the back of the room; Braithwaite walks to the area and sees that a boy has a rubber female figure with which he makes lewd movements while the others watch. Controlling his temper, he asks the student to put the figure away; so, casually putting the figure in his pocket, he then lets the top of his desk slam noisily down. With irritation in his voice after returning to the front, Braithwaite asks the boy reading to stop. He says sharply,
"After listening to you, I am not sure whether you are reading badly deliberately, or are unable to understand or express your own language. However, it may be that I have done you the injustice of selecting the worst readers. Would anyone else like to read for me?"
Pamela Dare stands and reads fluently a passage from Treasure Island. Afterwards, she looks at Braithwaite with defiance and sits down abruptly. When no one else volunteers, Braithwaite speaks to the class about the importance of reading well. Then, the recess bell rings and Miss Clintridge brings tea. While they drink their tea, Clinty, as she is called, gives Braithwaite some pointers. She explains that at home if they are disrespectful or out of line, the students are struck by their parents. So, because there are not physical blows struck, these students are not worried about being disrespectful. Clinty suggests that Ricky (she calls him by his first name) not take any disrespect and be bold in responding. After she leaves, Braithwaite finds he must follow her advice.
When he moves to the mathematics lessons, comments are made by students in a "kind of established convention of resistance to a new teacher." Knowing that they are testing him, Braithwaite replies sharply, "That's enough." Then, he berates them for being amused at their inabilities to read and at not knowing measurements. His sarcasm strikes a note that moves the students to watching angrily, but quietly. Feeling the anger he meant to incite, they do listen until the dinner bell dismisses them.