Oh, if I might dream the scenes of Sidney Poitier in moments as a child. His, a beautiful grace, a magical sojourn for the eyes anyone a witness. I was actually on my couch having a nap when the news came across my phone. I closed my eyes for a moment and recognized that beautiful smile, his clever poise. To Sir With Love came to mind in a tender moment, and I thought about my mom. I thought of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and afterwards …
So much memory is attached to that which we love. Where we were, how we might have been feeling, what is really on our mind? And yet, in this moment years later we recall the generation and his wisdom to deliver sure and sharp dialogue, inflection in his every turn on the stage. Oh my what a beautiful hand delivered smile.
So tonight I thought I would watch To Sir With Love and it resonated with me to the point of tears. I certainly did remember the times, those first walks into a new classroom, the indecision, learning steps. And yet, that was my now, when the then was Sidney Poitier in the early 60’s making waves. I remember watching the movie with my mom and being fascinated with how debonair and charming his character was all the time.
Tonight I watched the movie with a range of emotions. I couldn’t get over the spirit of being a teacher and working with students wanting only their ability to move forward with their lives. What the movie does is show us decades ago how important relationships can be in the education of our students. They need to believe in someone, or if they at least can, that comfort might allow them to think out of the box, to look more at life the way it will appear in their future beyond high school. It lets the students in the classroom feel like adults rather than pawns in the process.
I think one of the more glowing moments is when Mr. Thackeray turns to his students after discovering a leg of his desk set up to collapse. He picks up the broken leg, pats it in his hand a few minutes, gives the room a knowing look, then goes back to the business of teaching. I think the students were ready for a confrontation, but he didn’t do that. He chose to look past a negative moment, and build upon the next positive one he could. I think that is a piece of teaching we could all take lessons from in every aspect of our lives, not simply the classroom.
As an actor, the movie propelled Sidney Poitier’s career as he would go on to perform countless films that would accentuate his talents and more importantly his need to be on stage and recognize the human contributions of a man drawn with courage and compassion. It takes that individual to be a mentor in the classroom and life, and Poitier was a pleasure to watch play out each of his characters.
To Sir With Love is a film about education and love, and the need for students to feel strength in their own identity. Even when the students test Mr. Thackeray to no end, he still is resilient, he expresses in timely fashion his responsibility as a teacher. He knows the mission of the school, yet he knows more clearly his need to bolster the confidence of the students in his classroom. He does so with panache and elegance.
I could watch more of Sidney Poitier’s movies, and will do so over the weekend. I would suggest we all take a moment and enjoy the dramatic prowess of such is this iconic star of the silver screen.
© Thom Amundsen 1/8/2021