A group of students who are tired of the school administration's control over the school newspaper decide to start their own underground newspaper about life at Walt Whitman High. For their premiere issue, they interview Pete Dixon, who agrees to keep their identities a secret. But that first issue also includes a "teacher evaluation" column -- which makes a number of nasty comments about several teachers, including Alice Johnson.
With the student council election coming up, Pete Dixon complains to his class about student apathy, noting that less than a quarter of the student body is even registered to vote. The election features a contest between a serious candidate for school president, David Kane, and the football team's quarterback, who sees it mostly as a popularity contest. But then the election is thrown into disarray by the surprise candidacy of class clown Harvey Butcher as the "anti-candidate" - whose humor and mockery of the process ignites new interest in the election, even as it ...
Pete Dixon has been nominated for the statewide award of "History Teacher of the Year." When the committee evaluating his teaching methods comes to his classroom, they happen to sit in on an open discussion about Abraham Lincoln's place in American history. But when Jason Allen makes some inflammatory comments about Lincoln's character and accuses him of harboring racist beliefs about black Americans, one of the evaluators storms out of Pete's classroom in disgust.
Several of the girls at Walt Whitman begin to protest their treatment at the hands of both the male students and the administration. Their ringleader is Sandy, whose persistence wins an unexpected victory when another girl is allowed to take auto shop. But then there is some backlash -- and ridicule -- from those who see "women's libbers" as trying to change the sex roles too radically. Sandy, however, sees a chance to win respect from the school and the male students by having Pat Halloran, a gifted female athlete, compete for a spot on the boys' basketball team.
Pete Dixon participates in a pilot program that cross-trains teachers to become administrators, and finds himself in the vice-principal's office alongside Gil Casey, a tough disciplinarian who believes that no student who comes into his office ever tells the truth. Pete tries to take a softer approach with the students, putting him on a collision course with Casey - even though he reluctantly begins to see that Casey may be right about the duplicity of at least some of the students.
Conflicts develop between two students, Craig Jackson and Brendan Michaels, Craig a short-haired, straight-laced type who respects authority and often exercises it as a hall monitor, and Brendan an easygoing free spirit with long hair who abides authority grudgingly if at all. Tension boil over, however, when the track coach becomes ill and Pete Dixon takes over for the balance of the season. Pete relaxes the discipline and permits students with long hair to play for the team -- including Brendan Michaels, who is an excellent pole vaulter. This doesn't sit well, ...
Parents' Day at Walt Whitman brings with it an unexpected visitor named Rose Lipton, who follows Pam Simpson into Pete Dixon's class and regales the students with stories about her experiences as an immigrant - the topic that the class happens to be discussing. Although she is welcome in Pete's class, she makes similar impromptu presentations in other classes, and the teachers' complaints lead Principal Kaufman to ask her to stay away from the campus. This prompts several of the students to try to find some way that she can remain at Whitman even though she has no ...
Walt Whitman and its surrounding area is patrolled during the school day by police officer Harry Collin, whom many of the students and faculty respect for his easygoing, cooperative attitude. But one person who does not like Collin's approach to police work is hard-nosed vice-principal Gil Casey, who, along with some of the local citizens, complain to Collin's superiors. This leads to disillusionment among the students when Collin informs Pete Dixon that he's been reassigned.
Pete Dixon has a friend, Jerry Colby, with whom he jogs regularly, and who has two children at Walt Whitman High. Pete learns that Jerry's daughter, Sheila, is transferring to a private school. Despite his friendship with Pete and his insistence that the transfer is so that Sheila can take advantage of the music and arts program at the private school, Jerry's and Sheila's inconsistent stories about why she is leaving lead Pete to suspect that Jerry wants to get Sheila out of racially-integrated Whitman High.
Larry Ellison, a diminutive student of Pete Dixon's, lacks confidence in himself because of his size, and especially because he is taunted mercilessly by much larger fellow student Vic Martin. Pete suggests that Larry take up karate to build his self-esteem, and Larry begins to study under a karate master (real-life martial arts champion Chuck Norris, playing himself). Larry's efforts eventually begin to pay off, but Pete starts to have second thoughts when Larry becomes determined to use his new skills not just in self-defense, but also to settle his score with Vic ...
With another year's graduation approaching, Alice Johnson convinces Walt Whitman's administration to have an open competition to select the class valedictorian instead of simply relying on the students' grades. The unexpected winner of the competition, however, is perpetual underachiever -- and occasional troublemaker -- Stan Siebert. As graduation day approaches, some of the faculty and Principal Kaufman begin to worry that Siebert will not simply deliver his speech that won the competition, but instead use the valediction to make a fiery denunciation of the school ...
Several students at Walt Whitman have formed a band, the Nickel-Plated Toothpick, that has a shot at a recording contract with a Nashville record producer, thanks to the efforts of the band's manager, Sam Cousins, who operates a local discotheque. The band's lead guitarist, however, Mel Wertz, is deeply conflicted -- his dream is to be a teacher, but going forward with the recording contract and the required touring and publicity will mean missing that semester's finals -- and perhaps giving up on his dream of being a teacher.
Both her fellow students and her teachers at Walt Whitman are impressed by the drive and energy constantly exhibited by Bobbie Walstone, and the "Generation Gap" prom is no exception. Bobbie volunteers for three different roles in helping to make the prom a success. But as the day of the dance draws near, some of the students are dismayed to discover that Bobbie herself has no date for the big night.
Walt Whitman pupil Chris Beaumont is apparently one of the few students who does not cheat in the math class of no-nonsense teacher Howard Bruckner. When Bruckner unfairly accuses Beaumont of cheating, too, however, Beaumont begins to think that perhaps he should take the easier way out, too -- especially when another student, Ferdie Landis, offers him an "advance copy" of Bruckner's next exam.
Pam Arnold is thrilled when she is awarded a scholarship to one of the best art schools in the country. But when Principal Seymour Kaufman thanks Ken Dragen, the head of the English Department, for recommending her for the scholarship, he denies ever having signed her application form.
Walt Whitman welcomes a new civics teacher, Mr. Bomberg, whose previous experience teaching was in New York and New Jersey. Bomberg's approach to teaching civics, however, is to use shouting, insults, and physical isolation of students who aren't prepared for the day's lesson. When this leads most of his class to request a transfer en masse, a parents' committee demands that he be replaced. But Bomberg has a surprise defender -- soft-spoken Pete Dixon, whose own teaching methods are diametrically the opposite of Bomberg's approach.
Walt Whitman Principal Seymour Kaufman takes a personal interest in the situation of one student, Jerry Cates, who is a standout basketball player but whose grades have been tumbling, and who frequently falls asleep in class. Kaufman discovers that Jerry's mother has more or less abandoned him, forcing him to take on a night job just to pay the rent -- meaning that Jerry may end up in a foster home unless some other arrangements for his welfare.
Liz McIntyre is rotated to the "opportunity room," a kind of detention in a classroom setting. Her most difficult charges are Tamara, a dreamy girl who nevertheless excels at art; and George Badgely, who resents authority and is the most difficult student to reach. Beset with a room full of troublemakers, Liz decides to take up George's contention that teachers are the problem: she has the students help each other with their best subjects -- and tries putting George himself in charge of the class.
Charlie Morano and Abbie Domier confess that they have been married for more than four months while keeping the marriage a secret, having disregarded advice from Pete Dixon and Liz McIntyre that they should wait to tie the knot. Faced with the fact of Charlie's and Abbie's marriage, however, Pete and Liz now suggest that the newlyweds admit the truth to their parents -- whatever the consequences.
Feelings are running high between Walt Whitman High and its arch-rival, Daniel Webster High before the annual football game between the two schools. Whitman's principal and that of Webster are even considering canceling the game, fearing a riot between the two student bodies. Pete Dixon, however, proposes that the students be allowed to organize a "cool it" campaign to stress rivalry without violence. But he runs into resistance from Augie Cerutti, the captain of Whitman's football team, who is determined to win the campaign against Webster using any means available.
Someone has been committing acts of vandalism, such as dumping a bag of trash on some students during lunch, to call attention to the growing problem of pollution. The culprit disguises himself as "Paul Revere," and signs notes taking credit for the actions with Revere's name. Pete Dixon, however, figures out that the perpetrator is one of his students who holds Revere in high esteem. When Pete guesses the truth, the student swears him to secrecy -- but Pete has trouble abiding by his promise when the vandalism escalates to more serious -- and potentially criminal -- ...
Alice Johnson finds herself exhausted to the point of collapse, as she not only teaches class by day, but also spends hours grading papers - in between counseling students about the problems in their personal lives. Her problems begin to turn into a crisis, however, when she agrees to let the students read "Catch-22" before tackling "Silas Marner", and then is caught having signed a less than truthful note about where one of her students was after school.
Former Walt Whitman student Monty Harris returns after two years in the Marines to finish his senior year at his old high school. He expects that he will now be admired by the other students because of his real-world experience. But he finds that the language and the mind-set of the students has changed from what he remembers, and that their attitude toward him is different from what he anticipates.
Many of the boys in Alice Johnson's English class over-react to Laura Fay, a transfer student whom they find quite attractive. Laura Fay herself is a sensitive young woman who loves poetry, and who jumps at the chance to try out for a "College Bowl"-style competition between Whitman and other high schools. But as the harassment by her male peers continues, she decides to drop out of the competition -- and perhaps out of school as well.
Principal Seymour Kaufman is concerned about the prevalence of drug use at Whitman, and asks for suggestions how the teachers can help the students with this problem. Pete Dixon suggests setting aside a room where anyone who wants -- students or teachers -- can enter at certain times and talk freely, with assurances that nothing said will leave the room. At first the approach draws little interest from the students -- but then as it begins to show some promise, the school board decides it might want to shut the project down.