When Rick Braithwaite takes the job as a teacher at Greenslade School, he never dreams that he will learn as much about himself from the experience as he will impart knowledge to the students. Justifiably angry and resentful at his treatment as a second-class citizen in the employment market because of his race, Braithwaite is cautioned before he even gets the job to "be careful lest (he) be a worse snob than the rest of (the world)", by the gentleman who suggests he apply with the Education Authorities (Chapter 5). Prejudice often stems from lack of knowledge, and those who act intolerantly are not always malicious. In his role as a teacher, Braithwaite will find out just how limited his own understanding of things both racial and otherwise really is.
Once he gets in the classroom, Braithwaite immediately gets "the odd feeling" that his students "(know) more about life than (he does)". Although he has promised to treat his students like the adults they will soon become, he soon finds that he has little idea about just how much responsibility they already take on in their lives at home. Braithwaite is humbled when Gillian Blanchard points out to him that one of his students, Pamela, is truly "a mother to her family", and "a woman in every sense of the word". Without meaning to, Braithwaite had been "treating (his students) like kids" despite his professions to the contrary (Chapter 12).
From his students, Braithwaite learns that prejudice transcends the issue of race. He himself has been victimized because of the color of his skin, but he does not realize that, in being unable to understand his students' reluctance to defy racial taboos and take flowers to their friend Seales' home because he is black, he is demonstrating the same type of narrow-mindedness he so hates when it is directed at himself. Braithwaite is passionate, but he tends to be impatient. By acknowledging that the Headmaster's advice to him to "show (the students) some of the same tolerance and patient good will (he) hope(s) to get from them" is rightfully given, Braithwaite is set free from his frustration and enabled to face the racist attitudes which crop up against him in his own life with a greater sense of patience and equanimity (Chapter 20).