Chapters 7 and 8

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Last Updated March 25, 2024.

Chapter 7

Yesterday’s dinner was an altogether too noisy affair, so Braithwaite does not join the rest of the school for the noon meal. Instead, he eats in the peaceful staff room. As he eats, he realizes teaching is much more draining than he had imagined it to be. Soon Miss Blanchard joins him; she has her own lunch because she does not like the food. The two of them have much in common: books, music, theater, and films. She noticed his surprise that morning when the children listened so raptly to the classical music.

As the others make their way to the lounge after dinner, they each ask Braithwaite how his morning went. A few are amused that he seems to have taken Miss Clintridge’s advice. Mrs. Dawes reminds them all that these students are not as bad as some would suggest. Weston only wants obedience and he gets it, but it appears he derives little joy from the process. Braithwaite feels the little man delights in being irritating, yet he always makes his comments with a smile on his face. He understands his recent experiences may have made him extra sensitive to any comments about race, so the newcomer decides simply not to listen to Weston any more.

As the conversation continues, it becomes clear that nearly all of his colleagues want him to succeed, and he appreciates their support. The afternoon is less satisfactory than the morning. While the children are not disobedient, laughing, or chatting, they are also not cooperating with him. They do what they are told, but there is no energy or excitement in the doing. His remarks made a negative impression on them; their “silent watchfulness” is making a negative impression on him.

There are a few exceptions. Tich Jackson is friendly and, even though he joined in the laughing, he smiles at Braithwaite in a sincere way. Patrick Fernman is an intelligent boy who shows no resentment; and Lawrence Seales, a dark-skinned boy of mixed parentage, shows no resentment but also shows no indication of friendliness toward his classmates or his teacher.

Braithwaite stops in a tobacconist’s shop on his way home and sees a board with postings for goods and accommodations available. He stops to look, knowing the long trip to Brentwood will seem interminable in the wet and wintry months. He considers getting a place to live closer to the school. When the proprietor offers to wait on him, Braithwaite tells him he is a teacher at Greenslade School. The man contemplates him for a moment then tells him none of these postings is good enough for a teacher; if he will stop again, he will have something better to tell him about. This sign of deference and respect is shocking to Braithwaite, and he is moved by this stranger’s kindness.

At home that night, he discusses his day with the Belmonts, and they all agree he must do something to gain his students’ confidence and respect before their resentment has a chance to harden into something ugly and impenetrable or an incident occurs which will negate any possibility of a good relationship with them.

Chapter 8 

Every Friday morning before recess, everyone in the school writes a Weekly Review. Students write about their week in any form they choose; they may criticize, agree, or disagree, as long as they write about school. No one is exempt from criticism, including the headmaster, and there are no repercussions from anything that is written. The Weekly Review is one of the Old Man’s inviolable schemes. It benefits the students, because if something matters enough to them they will put it on paper as meticulously and correctly as possible. Teachers are able to see which of their lessons were effective and which were not. Florian’s theory is that the children are generally fair in their assessments, and a “sensible teacher” will take what he reads and make adjustments.

On his first Friday at Greenslade School, Braithwaite is anxious to learn what his students really think of him. He was disappointed to read so little about himself. Students noted the existence of a new “blackie” teacher, but their biggest commentary concerned their dance sessions and one of their classmate’s success on the local boxing club team. Braithwaite assumes they are expecting him to leave like Hackman, but if he made that minimal an impression on them, he assumes it is his failing.

After that, Braithwaite works very diligently at being a good teacher but continually feels unsuccessful. He reads books on the psychology of teaching, but they are not helpful. He feels as if he is trying to teach through a thick pane of glass which separates him from his class.

In retrospect, he realizes he passed through three stages in his relationship with his students. First, they gave him the “silent treatment,” doing what he asked and staring at him watchfully when they were not working. He did everything he knew to make their lessons engaging and applicable to their lives, but he was still disconnected.

The second phase was more annoying: the “noisy treatment.” Though not everyone joined in, even the non-participants were sympathetic to the noisemakers. When Braithwaite was reading, one or two students would bang their desk lids down and then look at him with feigned innocence for the accidental interruption. Generally he would end his lesson early and assign written work, as they could not make such noises while they were writing. He knew this was not effective teaching, and he tried not to get angry that they were missing out on lessons which were prepared solely for their benefit. Braithwaite wanted to give Weston no opportunity to gloat over his failures, so he kept trying.

Finally, one morning the use of foul language began. At recess that day, students congratulated the first offender for putting the teacher in his place. After this, things grew slightly worse than before, and students became vicious as they chose pointless battles to fight. Braithwaite saw other adult behaviors during this time, with much fondling and kissing happening in dark hallways or the farthest corner of the playground. Students would stop when he walked by, but as soon as he passed they would resume their activities, which clearly had “adult intentness.” Braithwaite tried to convince himself his only concern was what happened in his classroom, but he knew it was not true.

The younger children began to mimic the older ones. One day a small boy crashed through the glass roof of the girls’ bathroom while trying to peek in; he was not seriously injured. Braithwaite found it discouraging that his colleagues were concerned about the repercussions of a serious injury but seemed relatively unconcerned about the underlying moral questions.

One afternoon during the recess period, Braithwaite returned to find a smoky classroom. A cluster of boys and girls were standing around the fireplace grate, joking and laughing and making no attempt to eliminate the source of the smoke. When he pushed through the crowd of students, he found a used sanitary napkin which someone had tried to burn. Horrified, angry, and disgusted, Braithwaite lost his temper. He sent the boys out of the room and told the girls he was sickened by their crude language and their easy familiarity with boys.

They listened without a word of response. He told them this is disgusting behavior for young ladies and he would leave the room for five minutes while they removed the offending object and cleared the room of smoke. Braithwaite realized his students were trying to achieve a second victory by chasing him off, but he would not let them win this battle. When he reentered his classroom, everything was clean and smoke-free. He was surprised to find the girls were ashamed and the boys were waiting expectantly. Braithwaite would need a little time to make them see that the “game” has changed.

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Chapters 5 and 6


Chapters 9 and 10