To Sir, with Love Summary
To Sir, with Love is a novel by E.R. Braithwaite that recounts Braithwaite's personal experiences as a teacher in London, where his unorthodox teaching methods won him the affections of his students.
Braithwaite struggles to find steady work after World War II. Eventually, he gets a job as a teacher in London.
Braithwaite's students are semi-literate and largely uninterested in learning. They don't respect Braithwaite, and he struggles to teach them using the official curricula of the school.
- Finally, Braithwaite decides to switch tactics and engage his student's interests directly. He finally gets through to his students, and they come to love him.
Chapter 1 Summary
A red double-decker bus is crowded as it creeps through the morning traffic in Algate. A man is surrounded by the rather large, crude, but good-hearted women who have already been out to do their morning shopping. As a result, the bus smells heavily of fresh fish. He is the only man on the bus besides the conductor, and his is the only black face. The women banter and make sexual innuendos; he smiles at their good-natured teasing.
The bus moves through a rather dingy part of the city, and the women disembark with their shopping bags one by one. A “slim, smartly dressed woman” gets on the bus and starts to sit down—until she sees that the man she would be sitting next to is black. She decides to stand despite the conductor’s less-than-subtle hints that there is an empty seat for her if she would choose to take it. Just as the conductor is about to humiliate the arrogant and prejudiced woman, the passenger in question sees his destination ahead and asks to get off at the next stop. The conductor gives the man an “odd disapproving stare,” as if he had ruined the official’s battle plans. The man thinks he is doing the conductor a favor, for this is a battle he will never win.
The man stands on a corner of London’s East End, which he has so romanticized because he has read so many references to it in the works of Chaucer and Erasmus, among others. It is a site full of history in his imaginings, but the reality is different. The streets are noisy and littered and full of dirt and flies. The smells are “a sickening, tantalizing discomfort.” He forces himself to walk toward his destination: Greenslade Secondary School.
As he gets closer, a small boy with a Cockney accent is just emerging from the bathroom; he has obviously been smoking. The boy asks if he can help, and the man asks for the headmaster. The boy points and the man knocks, as instructed, on the door of the headmaster, Alex Florian. He is a small man with a large head full of white, curly hair and large eyes. Though the external surroundings are obviously less than pristine, his office is neat and orderly. The short man is “nattily” dressed. He stands to greet Ricardo “Rick” Braithwaite, whom he has been expecting.
It is a warm greeting, and Braithwaite is reassured by his sincerity. Braithwaite assures him he had no trouble finding the building, as he followed the directions given to him by the Divisional Office. Florian says they are pleased to have him join the staff and, after he has had a chance to become familiar with the school, hopes he will want to stay. When Braithwaite expresses his assurance that he will like it here, the headmaster smiles and tells him things are done a little differently here than in most schools, so he tells him to wander around and see if this is the place he really wants to be. If he does, they will talk again after lunch. Florian ushers Braithwaite out the door and shuts it behind him.
Chapter 2 Summary
This school is, as Headmaster Florian told him, a very different kind of school. As Braithwaite walks through the hallways, he is nearly knocked over by several students running out of a classroom. He knocks and enters to see what is happening, only to find forty students unattended. By their dress and demeanor, they seem to be well aware of their maturing bodies....
(The entire section is 15,129 words.)