In Montreal, an elementary school teacher kills herself. Bashir Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant, is quickly hired to replace her even though he is still recovering from a personal tragedy of his own. He gets to know his students despite the cultural gap evident from the very first day of class and his difficulty adapting to the school system`s constraints. As the children try to move on from their former teacher`s suicide, nobody at the school is aware of Bashir`s painful past or his precarious status as a refugee.
His wife, who was a teacher and writer, died along with the couple`s daughter and son in an arson attack. The murderers were angered by her last book, in which she pointed a finger at those responsible for the social and economic misery in Algeria. The film goes on to explore Bashir`s relationships with the students and faculty, and how the students come to grips with their former teacher`s suicide. Bashir eventually comes to be loved and respected by the students he is teaching, but his past may affect his standing at the school.