In Chapter 11, on a trip with the children where he hopes to teach them to swim, Conroy hears he is to be fired. A passionate confrontation between the school board and Conroy's supporters results in him winning back his job. After a few weeks, despite a desperate defense which includes a school boycott by Yamacraw families, a second attempt to oust him by Dr. Piedmont, the school superintendant, succeeds.
In Chapter 12, Conroy, reflecting on his year with the children, understands that the reason for his firing goes beyond superficial questions about his use of county funds and his attendance record, and even transcends the animosity caused by his unconventional teaching methods and willingness to challenge and defy the authority of the educational system. His dismissal is directly tied to the end of segregation in the South and the turmoil brought on by the change. The story ends with a bittersweet farewell. Conroy fears that despite his efforts he may have not helped the Yamacraw children much. He is thankful for the beauty they showed him, and prays that they be well in the times ahead, and that "the river is good to them in the crossing."