To Sir , With Love – E.R. Braithwaite
This semi-autobiographical novel based on the author’s own teaching experiences sets out to show how one meaningful individual can change the lives of many.
E. R. Braithwaite, a Guyanese author, diplomat and former Royal Air Force pilot due to the unavailability of any other job offers was forced to accept a teaching position. He also notes through this part-fiction part-memoir, the racial discrimination he suffered due to the colour of his skin.
In the book, an out of work engineer, Mark Thackeray is given a chance to teach in a tough inner-city London school. He finds it hard to be surrounded by undisciplined, unmotivated and unclean students. The students’ antisocial behaviour, casual racism, penchant for violence and, worst of all, self-hatred horrify him. However, his colleagues expect little of the pupils. Driven to a breaking point, he ultimately decides to look past the cynicism of the school management and the unruly nature of the students to teach them lessons in self-respect and integrity.
“I felt sick at heart, because it seemed that this latest act, above all others, was intended to show their utter disrespect for me. They seemed to have no sense of decency, these children; everything they said or did was colored by an ugly viciousness….they had pushed me about as far as I was willing to go; from now on I would do a little pushing on my own account.”
He starts giving them lessons from life rather than from textbooks. He takes them to museums and tells them about his childhood. He insist they call him ‘Sir’ and address each other with the prefix of ‘Miss’ or ‘Mr’, and asks them to respect themselves first. As he tells them, he would treat them as adults and in return they need to bestow the same kind of respect towards each other and their teachers. He gradually begins to gain their confidence, respect and trust.
|Sidney Poitier portrayed the unconventional Mark Thackeray in the 1967 film|
Published first in 1959, the beauty of ‘To Sir, With Love’ lies in the portrayal of relationship between a teacher and his students. The ups and downs in his life, his interactions with his class and their transformation from rowdy teenagers to young responsible adults makes this book a highly relevant chronicle for any teacher from any walk of life.