Chapters 9 and 10

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Last Updated March 25, 2024.

Chapter 9

The next morning, Braithwaite has an idea on the way to school. Though it is not clearly formed, he is hopeful of its success. After assembly and once everyone is seated at their desks, he begins to talk to his class in an informal and pleasant way. He tells them his plans for the rest of the school year, deciding most of what he says as he speaks to them.

The first thing he tells them is that he expects them to listen attentively to everything he says without interrupting; once he is finished, they may ask him whatever questions they might have or say whatever they want to say to him without his interrupting. When he looks around the class, he sees even the least interested and engaged students are listening to what he is saying. Braithwaite tells them his job is to teach, and he promises to do so in as interesting a way as he knows how; if they do not agree or understand, he wants them to tell him so.

Braithwaite tells them that in a mere six months, they will be forced to embark on the journey of adulthood, so he means to start treating them as adults and expects they will treat each other as adults, as well. At that moment, Pamela Dare comes rushing breathlessly into the room, and Braithwaite calmly uses her as an example. He says there are two ways in which people may enter a room: one is to be controlled and dignified, the other is to act as if they have just received a kick in the rear end. He challenges Miss Dare to demonstrate the former. It is a short battle of wills, but Pamela goes out and re-enters with the dignity of royalty. Braithwaite thanks her.

From this point on, all the female students will be addressed as “Miss,” the boys will be addressed by their surnames, and the teacher will be addressed as “Mr. Braithwaite” or “Sir.” The boys immediately demur, saying they know the girls and see no need to address them so formally. Braithwaite asks if there are any of the female students who are not deserving of the title, and of course the answer is no. Braithwaite tells them this is the kind of behavior which will be expected of them in the business world, so it is best for them to begin the practice now.

Next, Braithwaite discusses the general conduct of the class. He tells the girls they must act in a manner worthy and appreciative of such courtesies, and he tells them there are several specific areas which Mrs. Dale-Evans will be discussing with them in their Domestic Science class today. (Again this is impromptu speaking, but he is sure his colleague will be glad to help.) The boys, he says, must begin to look cleaner. “A man who is strong and tough never needs to show it in his clothes or the way he cuts his hair.” Several years from now, as they begin to think seriously of women to marry, they will be more attractive with clean hands and faces.

 

Between each of these points, Braithwaite gives them time to digest what he says before moving to the next topic of discussion. They are the top class, he reminds them, and they set the standards for everything that is done for every other class in the school. Younger students will emulate them, so it is important that they represent the “top” in every area of their conduct. Braithwaite assures them he will help in every way he can, and he tells them they have the potential to be the finest class in Greenslade School history.

One of the boys asks about the untidiness of Mr. Weston, and Braithwaite reminds them he is their teacher and they are free to criticize him if he does not maintain the same standards he sets for them. He then allows the students to quietly discuss what they have heard until it is time for recess. Then, he talks to Mrs. Dale-Evans about his promise to the girls. She agrees to help. Braithwaite spends the afternoon teaching in a way that models correctness and deference without being condescending.

Several students have moved into positions of authority within the class, and Braithwaite knows he must win them fully in order to achieve success. Denham and Potter are the male leaders; Moira Joseph is the female leader, though Pamela Dare is the brightest and cleanest student in class. As he and Miss Blanchard walk to the bus, Braithwaite explains his strategy. He is pleased at the concern in her eyes and now is even more determined to succeed.

Chapter 10

That Friday, Braithwaite’s students are writing their Weekly Reviews with “absorbed application.” The only words anyone speaks are a request for the spelling of “Braithwaite.” When he reads them during recess, Braithwaite feels the students were fair, but barely. They are not happy with some things, but all are glad to be treated as adults; however, not one of them mentioned the behavior leading up to the changes. They most appreciate that he speaks to them as if they are capable of learning. He takes their writing home with him to discuss with his Mom and Dad.

His parents, too, are pleased with the progress he has made. However, his father warns him not to bring his schoolwork home with him or he will be stuck in a very shallow world. Teaching is like a bank account, and one can only draw from it what one deposits in the form of life experiences and new thoughts and discoveries. Braithwaite’s father encourages him to find a girl, though his mother assures him there will be plenty of time for that. Braithwaite takes his father’s advice, and he never again brings work home to be corrected. Instead, he walks around the room and corrects errors while they are in progress, a much more effective way to teach.

The students are getting better each day. Their forms of address as well as their hygiene are improving, and sometimes the bell rings at the end of the day and they are still conducting an interesting discussion. Braithwaite strives with each lesson to help each student develop thinking and reasoning skills, useful tools for adulthood. Some students ask him questions about himself but others remain watchful and even hostile, looking for every opportunity to deflate their teacher when they can. Braithwaite strives not to notice such small things, preferring to concentrate on the cooperation of the majority.

Some days are not easy, though. One geography lesson deals with clothing for people who live in various climates, and Tich Jackson asks about the magazines he has seen in which Black women are dancing without “any clothes on at the top.” Unfazed, Braithwaite talks about various cultures who wear little or no clothing, or perhaps just fur for utilitarian purposes. The discussion moves to the history of clothing in Britain, and Braithwaite suggests they visit the exhibits at the Victoria and Albert Museum if they want to see more. One of the girls asks if he can take the class to the museum.

Such a thought had never occurred to Braithwaite, but he says that if enough of the class was interested, he will talk to the headmaster. Most of the class says they would like to go. In the back of the room, though, a small group of boys is gathered around Denham’s open desk. Inside he has a page from a magazine which depicts a curvaceous woman in a skimpy bikini. Braithwaite takes the “disgusting thing” and tears it to shreds before throwing the pieces in the wastebasket and continuing with his lesson as if the incident had never occurred.

The class is nervous, for they are aware (as is their teacher) that Denham wanted a fight in order to upset the class—and they all know he will have one sometime soon.

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Chapters 7 and 8

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Chapters 11 and 12