BOOK REVIEW: To Sir, With Love

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Those of you who are in your teens – how many of you desist to be told what to do and how to do, what to study and when to study?

Teenagers demand to be treated as adults but are seldom dealt that way. This forces them to rebel, often voicing their opinions vehemently. At home or at school, they face the same situation. But what if there comes a teacher who rather than bombarding them with sermons and bookish knowledge, enlightens them not only about their syllabus but also life, and treats them with respect, with equality.

To Sir, With Love, is one such story. Written by E. R. Braithwaite, the autobiographical novel is set in the East End of London, and portrays the society and culture prevalent in the UK, post-World War II.

The book takes us through the life of the author who despite having excellent qualifications is denied job suited for his education because of his black colour (racial discrimination existed deeply in society in those times). He thus takes the teaching job at Greenslade School, a secondary school in East End in London, as that’s the best job he could get at that time. But the school’s culture presents another shock to the prim teacher. Having worked in Royal Air Force, Braithwaite finds it hard to be surrounded by undisciplined, unmotivated and unclean students. He tries to teach them but becomes a victim of their pranks, unruly attitude and rude remarks. But the fighter in him refuses to hang up his boots. He decides to change his teaching style. So instead of teaching them book lessons, he starts giving them life lessons. The students, he tells them, would be treated as adults by him and in return they need to bestow the same kind of respect towards each other and their teachers. He gradually begins preparing them for life post-school. And that’s when things begin to shape up for the author, and his students start responding positively to his efforts.

The ups and downs in his life, his interactions with his class and their transformation from rowdy teenagers to young responsible adults is what keeps a reader glued to the book till the end. In between, Braithwaite does talk about the racial discrimination meted out to him due to his colour.

Published first in 1959, the beauty of ‘To Sir, With Love’ lies in the portrayal of relationship between a teacher and his students. It is this journey of Braithwaite that makes this book timeless; and lives with a reader long after the story ends.

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