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To Sir with Love by E. R. Braithwaite

To Sir with Love (1959)

by E. R. Braithwaite

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The Title Song by Lulu is one of my all time pop favorites, along with A Day in the Life, How Soon is Now? and Good Vibrations. I have not seen the movie adaptation. The book was vastly different from what I expected. It originally thought it was a fictional story. It is actually based on Ricky Braithwaite's experience teaching in an east end London school utilizing new teaching methods (no physical punishment, group discussions and common lunch meals). Not the best writing, but he captures dialogue well and tries to be sensitive to what he felt emotionally which in the 1950's was not to be taken for granted. He cites being a RAF veteran pilot but never says what he did other than "operations". Since he could not get a postwar job in his field of engineering, he was forced to apply for a teaching assignment. He begins to see in these 1950's outsider high school students a little of himself. Neither he nor they are fit into society as the prime elements for success. Braithwaite's students go on to vocational schools or military service. This is a slanted view from Braithwaite himself, as he reveals his own prejudices about others throughout the book in an offhand manner. He once calls girls in the class 'sluts' and gets into a boxing glove match with a student and knocks the wind out of the boy with a shot to the solar plexus. He's not the sharpest teacher. He spends much time brooding over the polite nature of English racial prejudice, as he saw it revealed slowly, compared to the more overt prejudice he saw in the American south. The southern Negroes of America would push back or at least were beginning to. There is a love story to be found in here but with another teacher who also saw the need to move slowly with regard to mixed race marriages in English society. I found this to be more about racial identity confusion or culture shock than about inspirational student mentoring. Still worth reading while displaying how far education has moved on from the 50's.
  sacredheart25 | Oct 15, 2015 |
I found this book on my dad's shelves back when I just began my freshman year in university. Really really liked the story of a highly educated black man, with highly educated parents in that era, an ex-pilot fresh out of work after the WWII, finding his place as a high school teacher of adolescent kids in a poor British neighborhood. It was practical and inspiring. The movie adaptation was good as well, but not exactly like the book. Sadly the original copy of the book was lost when my father lent it to one of his colleagues. ( )
  PsYcHe_Sufi | Jul 12, 2015 |
Overall, nearly a five-star read for me. To Sir, With Love is a remarkable story. The writing is exceptionally clear and to the point while the characters spring to life on the page. My one small issue; I felt as though Braithwaite bathed himself in an overly rosy light at times. Being an autobiography, I understand that we only get one side of the stories presented. As such, I found myself wondering how the children and other faculty might remember those days?

Regardless of this one small issue, after more than half a century since its release, the book remains eminently readable and still resonates deeply. It is a snapshot of the times - at least as how the times were perceived by a person of color with a privileged upbringing. The fact that Braithwaite went on to become ambassador does speak volumes for his credibility so perhaps events really did happen precisely how he portrays. ( )
  ScoLgo | Jun 4, 2015 |
Wonderful book. A very easy read.
Like the blurb says "A book that the reader devours quickly, ponders slowly, and forgets not at all."

I still remember the details when we were studying this for our English lessons in school.
I don't think I could find anything bad about it.

Recommended for everyone!

( )
  maheswaranm | Mar 20, 2014 |
Born in British Guyana (now Guyana), E.R. Braithwaite was trained as an engineer, and after serving in the RAF during WWII, he expected he would have no trouble finding work in his chosen field in Great Britain. However, it became clear very quickly that no one was willing to hire him because of the colour of his skin. It was only due to a chance encounter that he decided to apply for a teaching job. Not surprisingly, he was assigned to a school with one of the worst reputations in the East End of London.

Despite the fact that Braithwaite is determined to see teaching as a job not a career, he decides to make the best of it. Unfortunately, his first weeks are a disaster. Not only the colour of his skin but his patrician upbringing, and his lack of training make it almost impossible for him to relate to his students. At first, the problems seem insurmountable. The children are belligerent and deliberately offensive, testing him at every opportunity and, at first, he retaliates with anger. But somewhere along the way, he reassesses his own attitude towards his students. He determines to change the rules; he will scrap the lesson plan and they can talk about anything as long as they treat each other with respect. To this end, he is to be called Sir, the girls will be addressed as Miss, and the boys by their last names. By treating these children as adults, he wins, not only their respect but their love.

Braithwaite’s autobiographical novel is a fascinating look at the effect a good teacher can have on their students. It also gives an interesting look at the hopes and dreams people from British colonial countries placed on Britain and how the reality was so far from those dreams:

“Yes, it is wonderful to be British – until one comes to Britain”

In the end, though, it is an inspiring tale of how minds and attitudes can be changed if people are willing to listen to and treat each other each other with respect. Written in 1959, I have read comments from other reviewers saying that this novel is outdated. Personally, I think its message has never been more fresh or more needed ( )
1 vote lostinalibrary | Mar 7, 2014 |
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blurb: He shamed then, wrestled with them, enlightened them, and ultimately learned to love then. Mr. Braithwaite, the new teacher, had first to fight the class bully. The he taught defiant, hard bitten delinquents to call him ‘Sir’, and to address the girls who had grown up beside them in the gutter as ‘Miss’. He taught them to wash their faces and to read Shakespeare. When he took all forty six to museums and to the opera, riots were predicted. But instead of catastrophe, a miracle happened. A dedicated teacher had turned hate into love, teenage rebelliousness into self respect, contempt into consideration for others. A man’s own integrity - his concern and love for other - had won through.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0515105198, Mass Market Paperback)

The author's experiences as a teacher in the slums of London.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:05 -0400)

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The author's experiences as a teacher in the slums of London.

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