After serving his country in World War II, Richard Dadier decides to become an English teacher--and for the sin of wanting to make a difference, he's hired at North Manual Trades High School. A tough vocational school in the East Bronx, Manual Trades is home to angry, unruly teenagers exiled from New York City's regular public schools. On his first day, Dadier endures relentless mockery and ridicule and makes an enemy of the student body by rescuing a female colleague from a vicious attack. His fellow educators are bitter, disillusioned, and too afraid of their pupils to risk turning their backs on them in the classroom. But Dadier refuses to give up without a fight. Over the course of the semester, he tries again and again to break through the wall of hatred and scorn and win his students' respect. The more he learns about their difficult circumstances, the more convinced he becomes that a good teacher can make a difference in their lives. His idealism will be put to the ultimate test, however, when a long-simmering power struggle with his most intimidating student explodes into a violent schoolroom showdown.