Jenny Hill’s experience, kindly passed to us by Megan.
About a week or two before school started in the Fall, the school would post lists on the front doors of the school showing which students were being assigned to which teachers for the year. Once it was known that the lists were up, usually the older kids wouldn’t wait until the official ‘back to school’ orientation evening where the parents could meet the teachers but would instead get on their bikes and go up to the school to see the lists early.
The week before I started 6th Grade, my friend, Stacey, called me and said that her mother had passed by the school and noticed that the lists were up. After checking with my mother, I got on my bicycle and rode to the school to meet my friend and check out the list. We arrived at almost the same time and both raced up to see the lists. There were four 6th Grade teachers and we both hoped to get one teacher who was known to be a friendly teacher.
We scanned her list first and didn’t see our names. We then looked at our second choice and again were disappointed.
“Oh no!” Stacey said.
I glanced at the sheet she was reading and saw that it was for Ms Burton, who was the 5th Grade teacher who had witnessed my paddling the year before.
“Why are you looking at the 5th Grade list?”
Stacey shook her head. “I’m not, Jenny. Ms Burton is teaching 6th Grade this year.”
I looked back and forth between the lists to make sure there was no mistake. But there wasn’t. Ms Burton was definitely teaching 6th and to make matters worse, Stacey and I were both on the list of her students. The memory of having to bend over in the hallway and the sting of the paddle popped into my head.
“Not good,” was all I could mumble.
We went back to my house and tried to think about other things. On the first day of class, Stacey and I walked into the classroom with other students.
Ms Burton stood at the door way and said: “Last name alphabetical seating,” which meant that Stacey would sit right behind me.
While I was happy about this at the time, it was probably a bad thing. We took our seats and listened to Ms Burton give her first day speech about her classroom rules. Everyone in the class could clearly see past her shoulder where she had her paddle hanging on the wall. After her lecture on the rules, she went around the class and asked each student to say his or her name. Since she knew most of us already, it seemed a bit silly but she made it a point to make a comment after each name was said.
For some, who seemed to already be favorites from the year prior, she said things like, “the math ace” or “the times tables whiz” or “the artist”. When it came to me, she could have said, “the tetherball champ” or “the volleyball player” or at least “the tall girl”. Instead she said, “The pugilist.”
I didn’t know what this meant so I looked it up when I went to the library later and immediately thought: ‘Great, the one thing she remembers from last year is me hitting the other kid.’
For the next several weeks, I was worried that she was going to have it in for me. It seemed like every time she got after the class for making too much noise if we were working on a class project or eating in the cafeteria or playing on the playground, she mentioned me by name. When a music teacher praised me for having a great voice, that carries. I was very proud of myself. But what was a positive thing for singing in the choir was not a great thing when a teacher is able to single out my voice in a crowd of talking students.
While I expected it, I wasn’t the first, second, or even third student she took into the hall with her paddle. The first victims were boys. Within the first two months of class, I would say that at least half, seven or eight out of fourteen or so, had already been paddled. By then, I was rather nervous around her and just hearing her call my name gave me the chills.
As November came around, I think a number of students were anxious for the long Thanksgiving weekend and started slacking off doing their homework. She normally made a student write extra lines if he or she forgot homework but I guess she had gotten fed up so she announced that starting from the Monday after Thanksgiving break, anyone not having completed homework would get paddled. I took her seriously but three students, two boys and a girl, confessed that they did not complete a report that was due that Monday. We all held our breath to see what was going to happen next.
She made us wait as she glanced to each and every report before standing up and announcing that three students had indeed not completed their work. She also warned two of the students that their work was just barely above the minimum required and that next time she would expect better.
Then she reached up on her wall and took down the paddle and said: “Ladies first, Kim.”
The poor girl was already in tears before walking out into the hallway. Ms Burton warned the rest of us to sit at our desks and work on our homework with no talking. A couple minutes later, we heard the three loud pops in the hallway and lots of crying. After Kim returned, sobbing, a boy went out, and when he returned the next. Both boys were watery eyed when they came back in and at least one was sniffling.
While I felt badly for Kim and the others, I was certainly glad I had finished the report over the weekend. While I wasn’t in trouble that day, my good days were numbered. Perhaps I had become too much at ease or perhaps I was also getting anxious for a vacation break or perhaps her patience had just run out but, about a week before Christmas break, my luck ran out.
Ms Burton had left the classroom for a few minutes (honestly, where do all the teachers go when they disappear in the middle of class?) and I had turned around in my seat to talk to Stacey. I thought I was being fairly discrete but the door opened and Ms Burton came in as I was spinning around in my chair to face forward.
“Jennifer, what were you supposed to be doing while I was out?”
“Reading,” I said.
“Then why could I hear your voice from outside in the hall?”
Before I could answer the question, she had already walked to the wall and started reaching for the paddle.
“Hallway. Now!” Was all she said.
I slowly got up and went to the door with my head down. She followed me out and then went next door to get another teacher, Ms White, as a witness. Once the two returned, Ms Burton told me that she was tired of warning me about talking when I wasn’t supposed to be talking and that maybe the paddle would help me remember not to talk next time. Then after making sure I didn’t have anything in my pockets, she told me to bend over.
I did as I was told and held on to my shins. I was wearing jeans that day and the sound of the paddle echoed up and down the hallway. It seemed to me that she paddled much harder than my teacher the previous year and tears were rolling down my cheeks after the first swat. After the first, my hands went from my shins to my knees and after the second they moved up higher as I started to straighten upright. She told me to hold onto my ankles and waited until I was completely bent back over before delivering the third one. I couldn’t help but cry and rub my behind once she was finished. We returned back to class and I got a tissue from her desk before painfully taking my seat.
We had desks with wooden seats that were really uncomfortable to sit on after getting the paddle. The message had gotten through to me and the rest of the class though and things were quieter for the next couple of weeks. I managed to get through the Spring without returning to the hallway for any more from her paddle.