Happy 90th Birthday Sidney Poitier! A Blogathon Celebration!
“The time has come for closing books and long last looks must end. And as I leave, I know that I am leaving my best friend… a friend who taught me right from wrong — and weak from strong — that’s a lot to learn… But, what can I give you in return?”
Ever since I was a little kid, way back in my grammar school days, I just adored the film To Sir with Love. I loved it so much that I recorded it (from the little TV in my bedroom) onto my portable Panasonic cassette recorder so that I could listen to it over and over again, anytime at all, at my heart’s whim. Of course, this didn’t make me the coolest kid on the block, but alas I didn’t care, because this movie really ‘spoke’ to me. I even remember purposefully buying and reading the little paperback book written by ‘real-life Mark Thackery’ E. R. Braithwaite when I was in 8th grade, and surprise surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed that as well. Strike two to my coolness factor. And, if that wasn’t enough, I bought the 45″ single of the title song by Lulu, and listed to it incessantly. Need I say, strike three, to my coolness factor as a kid…
The book and the single To Sir with Love were two of my prized possessions as a kid, along with my cassette tape of the movie of course
Now, I really can’t put my finger on why this film resonated with me so well at such a young age, but after pondering it a bit, I think maybe it was because I always liked school and learning, and I loved the fact that this particular school teacher cared so much about his students that he helped them love to learn too. And as simplistic as that sounds, I suppose that’s still part of the reason why I love this film today.
But, of course, there’s a bit more to it than that… Over the years, this film has become more and more relevant to me, and I am emotionally tied to it because of the messages it conveys and the incredibly moving performance of Sidney Poitier as teacher/mentor. For me, there is a particular profoundness to it, as I have been fortunate enough to have had a teacher/mentor in my life who left an indelible mark on me and, yes, changed me — profoundly. But, what has really amplified the meaning of this film for me over the past few years is that, now, I myself, am in the position of teacher/mentor – funny how life sometimes takes an unexpected turn…
Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray, engineer turned teacher/mentor, in a tough East End of London school
That said (for those of you who have seen the film), you can probably imagine how uncontrollably I sob during the final scenes of the movie — from the time Lulu sings her ‘thank you’ song, until the very ending when Mark Thackery (Poitier) rips up the… oops, don’t want to spoil this fabulous ending for those of you who haven’t seen it.
Yes, by now, I’m sobbing uncontrollably, and the sobs will continue through the last scene and, yes, even the ending credits
And now, in celebration of Sidney Poitier’s Birthday Blogathon, here are a few of my favorite life lessons from To Sir with Love…
1) Life isn’t easy, and you’ve got to do your best to navigate it.
Mark Thackeray (Poitier) is an out-of-work engineer who turns to teaching in London’s East End until he can find an engineering job. But this is by no means an easy job for him… Thackeray’s pupils are a rowdy bunch of working-class student rejects who try their best to break his spirit at every turn.
2) Never give up.
Thackeray is thwarted at every turn, but perseveres. He tries his best to find resources and insights on how to help him help his students, but it’s not easy, and it seems as if he is fighting a losing battle. It’s a tough school and the students seem beyond his reach. He tries his best to remain calm throughout the disruptiveness and disrespect, until a disgusting incident causes him to lose his temper — it’s at that point that he realizes what he must do to get through to these kids! Now — it’s not all smooth sailing after that… there are still lots of issues to deal with, including a crush, a ring-leader, a parent-child conflict, a bullying teacher, and racial tensions — but Tackeray’s course is set, and he will see it through.
3) Money isn’t everything.
Yes, teaching is a thankless job, at least financially. And Thackeray checks his mailbox every day in the hopes of getting an acceptance letter for an engineering job. Finally, at the very end of the semester, he gets that very letter, and resigns from teaching! He does, however, accept his students’ invitation to their graduation party, where they pay tribute to him with a heartfelt song and going-away present. He is speechless, and goes back to his old classroom to think. A bunch of rowdy lower-level students run into his classroom, interrupting his solitary moment, telling him that they’re in his ‘bleeding class’ next year… Now, I don’t want to tell you what happens next, but you can probably guess, given that the ‘lesson’ above says ‘Money isn’t everything’.
A Big Thank You to Virginie Pronovost at The Wonderful World of Cinema (@Ginnie_SP) for hosting this very special event! There are so many more wonderful Classic Bloggers participating in this event so please be sure to check out the other entries.
—Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub