Chapters 11 and 12

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Last Updated March 25, 2024.

Chapter 11

On Thursday there is a sense of excitement in the air. Both Braithwaite and his students can feel it. In the afternoon, the boys go to their physical education class and Braithwaite asks them to line up for their activity. Denham steps forward and asks if the class can have boxing first today. Braithwaite agrees and the boys pair off by size. Denham’s partner is conveniently unable to participate, so he asks Braithwaite to spar with him. This is the moment Denhem has been preparing for since last week.

After initially telling Denham no, Braithwaite discerns that the other boys see this as a sign of cowardice and decides to spar with Denham. Everyone else lines the wall and prepares to watch. It soon becomes clear that Denham’s reputation as a boxer is well earned, and Braithwaite does his best to hold the boy at bay until he can reasonably stop the fight after having been foolishly goaded into it.

A few boys are cheering for their teacher from the sidelines; the rest do not say anything. Suddenly the boy hits Braithwaite hard in the face, and the older man reacts by punching Denham hard in the solar plexus. The boy is doubled up on the floor, and there is a moment of stunned silence before the boys come rushing to their fallen classmate. Braithwaite tells them all to line up in preparation for vaulting, and surprisingly they all do so without complaint or murmur while he ensures that Denham is fine. The rest of the boys obey with alacrity for the rest of the period, acting as if their teacher had suddenly matured into a man before their eyes.

After class, Braithwaite assures Denham it was a lucky punch and tells him to go clear his head. In a shaky voice but without hesitation, Denham says, “Yes, Sir” before going to the washroom. This is the turning point in Braithwaite’s relationship with his class. Though he still offers consistent comments and wisecracks, Denham no longer poses a threat as an enemy of his teacher. Braithwaite’s attitude toward his students also changes. While before he tried to do his best for the sake of his job, he is now concerned about each one of them and finds himself liking them individually rather than collectively.

During recess periods, students often stay in and talk with Braithwaite about their families and their concerns about things like money and basic needs such as food and clothing. In turn, Braithwaite tries to apply every lesson in every subject to their real lives and experiences. Occasionally, Headmaster Florian joins their discussions. He expresses his approval of the job his newest teacher is doing, and Braithwaite takes the opportunity to ask about taking his class on a field trip to the Albert and Victoria Museum.

The headmaster is reluctant to let them go, feeling the students’ behavior is likely to be disruptive and unruly. Finally he agrees to let Braithwaite take his class if he can find one other teacher to go with him. He asks Miss Blanchard (Gillian) to go with him, and she readily agrees. The rest of the staff is dubious and share their doubts openly. When one of the boys comes to the staff room and tells Weston that Miss Dare would like to know if the girls’ netball is repaired, the teacher does not even know who the boy is talking about and the boy has to explain that he means Pamela Dare. Weston is sarcastically amazed to hear such a formality from a student and rather mocks Braithwaite for teaching his class manners.

When Weston asks if all the rest of the teachers need to start addressing students so formally as well, Braithwaite explains that each teacher is free to do what he or she wishes, but he and his class have come to an agreement regarding “certain courtesies.” This begins a conversation in which Weston is characteristically sarcastic and critical, and Braithwaite is surprised to hear the women in the room come to his defense. Weston makes sexist and racist comments, and it is clear the women are tired of their negative, prejudiced colleague. But Braithwaite thinks that what happens in the staff lounge does not really matter; the only thing that matters is the children.

Chapter 12 

After recess, Braithwaite tells his students about their field trip to the Albert and Victoria museum next Thursday. They are ecstatic at the prospect of an outing but dubious about the presence of Miss Blanchard, their second chaperone. Thursday morning Braithwaite gets the travel voucher and comes to class after all of his students have arrived. He is stunned at what he sees. Each student is clean and tidy and dressed to make a good impression. They are thrilled at Braithwaite’s “delighted surprise.”

The trip on the subway is full of lively chatter until two women board the train and show their disdain for “shameless young girls and these black men.” Their remarks are meant to be overheard, and they are. Pamela Dare turns to the women and tells them Braithwaite is their teacher; the women are embarrassed and ashamed. At the museum, students work in groups, and it is clear to Braithwaite that they have done some preparatory work before coming to the museum. Even when they meet for tea, their discussions center on what they have seen and how what they saw impacts their lives today.

Braithwaite is proud of his class, for they conducted themselves in a manner befitting any class from any school. Denham and Potter act as marshals, ensuring every group is ready to leave when it is time to go. It is clear that the class now respects their teacher, and everything he says is taken as absolute authority. Gillian tells him she had a wonderful time and enjoyed talking to the girls in his class, though they seem to know more about life in many respects than she does. Gillian does note that Pamela Dare has a crush on Braithwaite, a thought which stuns him. He assures Gilliam he has never treated the girl differently than any of the others, and Gillian just laughs and says she is certain that is true—but it will not deter the feelings of a teenage girl.

When Gillian says she does not blame the girl, for he is “rather overpowering,” Braithwaite is in a state of confusion. He admires Gillian and wants to maintain their friendship, though she makes him feel “at once excited, delighted, and sobered.” The atmosphere between them has changed, and he walks quickly out of the room. Though he has had several affairs in his life, Braithwaite has never been serious with any woman. Before, his color did not seem to matter; in fact, it had probably worked in his favor. Now, In England, a white woman with a Black man is made to feel as if she were humiliating all womankind; it is simply not accepted.

Gillian follows Braithwaite to his room and asks if he is upset by their conversation, and their short dialogue leads to a tacit understanding of unexpressed feelings between them. He is ecstatic at this new and unexpected development. The next day the train is a bit late, making him a bit late to class. He is stunned to hear his class greet him in unison; he is equally stunned to see a bouquet of bedraggled flowers—obviously gathered from the back yards of many class members—waiting for him on his desk. He is moved, and he thanks his smiling students with a full heart.

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Chapters 9 and 10

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Chapters 13 and 14