What is a summary of chapter 2 in To Sir with Love?

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In chapter 2, Braithwaite, getting ready to start his new job as a teacher, has a chance to look around the school, as the headmaster, Florian, has suggested he do. The general impression he gets is not so much negative as simply a surprising and unexpected one.

He looks in...

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In chapter 2, Braithwaite, getting ready to start his new job as a teacher, has a chance to look around the school, as the headmaster, Florian, has suggested he do. The general impression he gets is not so much negative as simply a surprising and unexpected one.

He looks in on what will become his class. The teacher, Hackman, has apparently just quit, unable to handle the situation any longer. From just a glance into the "abandoned" class, Braithwaite is slightly shocked. The students look rough and undisciplined to the point where he describes them as a "menagerie." There is also, however, a surprising maturity about them in the way they carry themselves and are dressed. These are kids from working-class families. The school is in London's East End; the building is rather shabby looking and is adjacent to a bombed-out church. (The book takes place in the late 1950s, and American readers today might be surprised that much of London at this time still shows the effects of the World War II bombings of 15-plus years earlier.) The staffroom appears unkempt as well, and although most of the teachers are friendly to Braithwaite as he is introduced to them, he is already subjected to the sarcasm of the one teacher, Weston, who does not seem able throughout the novel to refrain from making tasteless and callous jokes about Braithwaite's being a black man.

The chapter is a microcosm of the general situation and the problems Braithwaite encounters in the story as a whole. He is the Other, a black teacher in an almost entirely white school, but apart from the issue of race, there is one of class difference as well. Braithwaite himself has grown up in British Guiana, so there can be said to be several levels of disconnect between himself the milieu in which he now finds himself. What is somewhat surprising, however, is that in spite of the potential conflicts outlined in this chapter and the problems inherent in the setting, there is nevertheless a positive feeling conveyed to the reader. It is an optimistic mindset that Braithwaite projects already, somehow letting us know that these problems can, and will be, solved as he navigates his way through uncharted territory, in what has come to be (partly due to the film version with Sidney Poitier) one of the iconic high-school stories of its period.

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Left by the Headmaster to look over the school on his own, Mr. Braithwaite walks down the hall and is nearly bowled over by a red-headed girl being pursued by two others. Seeing two of the students rushing into a classroom, Mr. Braithwaite goes over, knocks on the door, and walks in. He is stunned by the atmosphere of disarray in the room; there is no sign of a teacher, and the students, about forty of them, are standing around in "careless unscholarly attitudes." One of the students says to him, "If you're looking for Mr. Hackman, he's not here, he's in the staffroom," and Mr. Braithwaite, taking his cue, retreats to the staffroom, where he meets a "cadaverous" young man reclining in an easy chair. In answer to his query, the man informs Mr. Braithwaite that Mr. Hackman has quit, and predicts that he, Mr. Braithwaite, will be replacing him. He then leaves the room, and soon after, a tall blonde woman, Mrs. Dale-Evans enters; in a friendly, efficient manner, introduces herself as the teacher of Domestic Science, and invites him to stay for dinner.

Mr. Braithwaite explores more of the school grounds, and finds the environment shabby and unkempt. He wonders how "these East London children feel about coming to this forbidding-looking place, day after day." Upon returning to the staffroom for dinner, Mr. Braithwaite meets more of the teachers - Miss Dawes, Miss Phillips, Theo Weston, the man he had earlier met, Miss Clintridge, the art and drama teacher, and Miss Blanchard, who has only been at the school for a few days. The teachers are friendly, although they express doubt that Mr. Braithwaite will remain at the school, and when the meal is over, everyone leaves except Miss Blanchard. Mr. Braithwaite asks Miss Blanchard if the children are difficult to manage, and she tells him that they are, and that to her, they seem "frightfully grown-up and sure of themselves." Miss Blanchard tells Mr. Braithwaite that at Greenslade, the students "are encouraged to speak up for themselves," that punishment is not used, and that she often finds what the children say "rather alarming and embarrassing."

At this point, Mrs. Dale-Evans, who is on her way to fix a bath for a child who is so unkempt that her peers will not sit near her, comes into the staffroom. She invites Mr. Braithwaite to come see the Domestic Science room where she teaches, and Mr. Braithwaite is impressed to find a well-equipped classroom with cooking supplies, sewing machines, and washing machines as well. When her students come in, Mrs. Dale-Evans has them scrub their hands thoroughly, after which they stand quietly waiting for directions. Mr. Braithwaite is encouraged by "the high standard of cleanliness and order she (is) able to achieve with the children," and decides that if she can "accomplish such near perfection without recourse to beatings," then he certainly stands a chance of achieving the same thing (Chapter 2).

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