Seat of Learning

Teaching can be one of the hardest jobs in the world…and it’s hard because of the students. Take 30 kids with lots of energy and put them in the classroom, and you’re going to get lots of activity, but not necessarily any education. I’m always impressed when a teacher can capture and hold the attention of what has to frequently resemble an unruly mob.

I was one of the worst offenders. Whether it was making a funny noise, asking a stupid question or just causing a disturbance, I was one of THOSE kids. 

Some teachers played along, and tried to steer my energy in productive directions. They would turn me loose in the library to find the answer to some arcane question, which I was more than happy to pursue. Some times, I’m pretty sure they knew the answer, and just needed a few minutes of peace and quiet.

Other teachers took a more ‘hands-on’ approach. I don’t think it’s allowed most places now, but paddling (or the threat of it) was a frequently-used tool to improve student compliance, and I found myself a recurring customer. Talking in class? Paddling. Scuffle in the hallway? Paddling. Looking at the teacher cross-eyed? Paddling.

Paddling was seen as the cure-all for student misbehavior, and a lot of times, it worked. The errant student would get ordered out (and sometimes pulled out) into the hallway. The teacher would get another teacher as a witness, order the student to bend forward and SMACK! them on the hindquarters. 

Inside the classroom, the other students would get deathly quiet, and crane their necks to see if they could get a glimpse of the punishment in action. After the punishment was administered, the student would walk back in, eyes cast at the linoleum floor, red-eyed, red-faced (and presumably red-seated). 

Not all teachers were paddlers. Some were more creative in their de-escalation techniques….while others outsourced the job to other teachers who saw it as a necessary evil, a regrettable duty, or an opportunity to show the kids who was boss. 

Mr N. had a fraternity paddle college days proudly displayed on the wall as a reminder of his college days….or perhaps a warning to the uninitiated. Because of the size and thickness, he didn’t swing it very hard, so the corporal punishment was more symbolic than painful.

Mr. S. had a thinner paddle that was applied with a bit more force. It made a loud SMACK! sound when applied, and stung a little, but it was over quickly. His demeanor was the worst part of the event. Red hair and red-faced, he’d grimace and make sure that you knew you were being punished.

Mr. H. was the worst. He would grin and walk the student out in the hallway, with a hand on their shoulder and a twinkle in his eye. One time, he looked directly at me and said, “What’s your problem?” I froze and shook my head, not having any idea what he was talking about. He barked, “That’s about enough of those monkeyshines”, and pointed towards the door. I hadn’t been doing anything other than reading, so I looked around to see if there was someone else shining a monkey nearby. 

“NOW!” He ordered. I timidly got up and walked towards the door. He pulled his paddle from underneath the desk, which had holes in it. I had seen the paddle used before. The holes made the paddle sting worse on impact, and made a whistling noise as he swung it through the air, which made it even more menacing. 

Mr. H. ordered me to stand by the lockers while he got Mr. C. from next door. Mr. C. looked at me to see if he could figure out why yet another student was walking the Green Mile this time, and I just shrugged my shoulders. Mr. Harris said, “Grab yer ankles!”, and I assumed the position. 

I could hear the wind rushing through the paddle as he drew it back, and it seemed like an eternity before he swing it forward. CRACK! It stung as it hit my backside, but I didn’t make a sound. He said – “Are you going to be quiet now, or do I have to do this again?” I didn’t know if I was allowed to say anything, so I just nodded vigorously. I quickly walked back into class and sat down, not making eye contact with anyone. 

To this day, I have no idea why I got paddled. I wasn’t talking, wasn’t acting up and wasn’t distrusting the class at all. There may have been another student moving about that distracted the teacher, and I got the vicarious punishment. To me, it just seemed like a way to assert dominance, and I wasn’t alone. Lots of kids got the paddle from that teacher, including at least one girl. 

As I went on to middle school, paddling became less frequent. I don’t know whether that was from kids learning how to behave, or that as we got bigger, there was less of a difference in size between us and the teachers. That didn’t stop it completely, though. I got sent to the Principal’s office at least twice, and paddled both times. Both times, I deserved getting sent to the Principal, because fighting with other students is always frowned upon. Whether paddling was appropriate is another question.

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