Form and Content
In To Sir, with Love, E. R. Braithwaite tells the story of his first year of teaching at a rough school in a working-class neighborhood of London’s East End. The book’s title derives from the inscription on the end-of-school gift that the students presented to Braithwaite at their graduation dance. Reconstructed conversations constitute at least one-third of the text; the balance of the book consists of narrative and interior monologue.
The first chapter opens with Braithwaite on his way to interview for a teaching position at Greenslade Secondary School. He took the post believing it to be merely a job, not a calling or a labor of love. He was oriented to the new job by an experienced teacher, who discussed his specific duties, and by the headmaster of the school, who discussed its philosophy and students. Chapters 4 and 5 flash back to the eighteen months of unsuccessful searching for an engineering position that preceded Braithwaite’s arrival at Greenslade. During that time, he had interviewed for numerous positions, always being told, “I am sorry; we cannot use you,” sometimes with the additional explanation that the company could not employ a black man to supervise white people who had been with the company for a number of years. In his six years of military service, his skin color had never been an issue; now it made him feel that, although he was British, he was not a Briton. Whenever he applied for technician’s jobs and lower positions than the engineering or science work for which he was qualified, he was told that he was too well dressed, well spoken, or well educated for the job.
A chance encounter with a stranger, an older gentleman on a park bench, saved Braithwaite from complete dejection and pointed him toward a teaching career. The older man advised him to seek a teaching position; skin color would not matter, the stranger believed, and postwar London had a teacher shortage. That Braithwaite had a lengthy conversation with the older stranger and took his advice without ever learning the...
(The entire section is 506 words.)