A group of young adults, girls and boys, from London’s East End (something like an Indian slum) go to a small school – The Greenslade Secondary School. The teachers – most of them women, have grown up from among them. The men the kids see around them – fathers , brothers, uncles and neighbours are scruffy and untidy, dress in shabby ill-fitting clothes, barely bother to brush or bathe and are hardly conscious of basic hygiene let alone the aesthetics of their appearance.
Then one day, in walks a teacher and I quote, “his clothes are well-cut, pressed and neat, clean shoes, shaved, teeth sparkling, tie and handkerchief matching as if he’s stepped out of a ruddy bandbox. He’s big and broad and handsome“. Chances are he will be laughed right out of the school as a complete misfit. But this one sticks.
Rick Braithwait, my character for today is from ER Braithwaite’s, part autobiographical book To Sir With Love. An engineer and an ex RAF aircrew, he joins the school because he cannot find any other employment largely due to him being black. He is faced with a group of completely unmotivated, semi literate pupils interested in everything but studying. Their attitudes range from indifference and defiance to hostility. He struggles through prejudices, his own as well as his students’, and years of deeply ingrained attitudes and habits. His firm belief in his students’ capabilities and their innate goodness sees them rise above themselves. He wins over not just their respect, love and trust but also that of their families. It’s one of the warmest feel-good books I’ve read. If you’re a teacher or a parent here’s an ideal you might like to adopt.
It’s hard to enumerate why I love this character. He is sensitive and intelligent and smart. He embodies all that is honest and wholesome. He wins over the reader completely so that you celebrate his victories and feel his pain when his students fail him which they do many times over.
I love him for the trust he places in his students. I love the way he extends himself to things way beyond academics. He teaches the students to dress, to talk and to appreciate basic human values. He introduces them to Shakespeare. He takes them on trips to the museum and the opera. Sceptics predict chaos but the children do him proud. He sets high standards for himself and expects the same from his students.
And he’s passionate. His impassioned outbursts at the students are possibly my favourite parts of the book. Heck, I could have fallen in love with him as did the students.
Yes, yes I hear you – he seems too good to be true. The character is, say critics, too simplistic and a bit vain, his victories too easy. But for one moment banish that cynic in you and you’ll love him just as I do.
Don’t forget to drop by next week for yet another fascinating character. It’s a boy this time – a teenager – a very very different teen who’s out on an investigative trail. And do share your favourites. It’s no fun if I do all the talking :-).
Linking up to ABC Wednesday , the fun alphabetical weekly challenge.