The setting of the autobiographical novel To Sir, With Love is a run-down area in London's East End. This is a part of the world where poverty, ignorance, and lack of opportunity are endemic, and where formal education isn't anywhere near as valued as it should be.
Into this unpromising environment steps Mr. Braithwaite, a teacher from the Caribbean who must somehow get through to a class of working-class pupils for whom education is, at best, a chore, and at worst, a complete waste of time.
To a considerable extent, the students in Braithwaite's class are very much creatures of their environment. They've grown up in such unimaginable poverty and squalor that they've developed narrow horizons. Unable to see beyond their immediate environment, they are especially difficult for anyone to teach.
Yet Braithwaite is undeterred and makes a valiant effort to get through to these dead-end kids. The setting of the story is important for him too because it establishes the boundaries Braithwaite must work within and in which he is expected to make progress in teaching.
On top of this, Braithwaite must deal with the challenges presented by his race. As a Black man teaching in a part of the world not renowned for its openness to other races and cultures, Braithwaite is hampered not just by the generally negative attitude to education displayed by his students, but also by the racist attitudes of many people who live in this corner of London.