I attended high school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1960s, when corporal punishment was still in use. The Assistant Principal for Discipline had a school-style paddle, about two-feet long, half handle and half spanking area, and I believe 5/8 of an inch thick. When teachers had an unruly student, they would send the boy, it was always boys, to the office with a note.

This was a very strict school with an especially strict dress code. Boys had to have their hair cut above their collar, and girls were made to kneel on the floor to prove that their skirts weren’t too short; the skirts had to touch the floor when kneeling. Kid’s parents were called to come take them home if the dress code was violated. To my knowledge, boys were not paddled for having long hair.

Classroom decorum was also very strict, and this is how I got into trouble and was paddled in 1966, when I was a 16-year-old sophomore. I was an honors student and very well-behaved, as were my fellow honors students. We heard about the paddle being used, but none of us had experienced it.

One of the rules was absolutely no passing of notes during class. We had chemistry first period, and our teacher was a woman in her 30s who was notable for having extremely short hair, which was very unusual at the time. The rumor was that she was showing her sexuality with the short hair. She had a deep voice for a woman even though she was quite slight, and she was very no-nonsense. I wish I could remember her name, as I would gladly use it as everything in this story is completely true.

One day, one of my friends passed me a note from several desks away. I knew this was a violation and so I tried to quickly slip it under my chemistry book without reading it. But the chemistry teacher saw it.

“Give me that, Tony!” she said in a stern tone.

I took the note up to her desk and she put it on her desk in clear sight. Then she went on with her lecture.

The bell rang and we were grabbing our books to go to home room when my friend came up to me and told me that the note was an original poem he had written. He and I were both very much into poetry and would show each other our creative efforts. He said he was a bit worried that she would throw it away, and he had no copies. While he was really the one at fault, I felt bad that I hadn’t hidden the poem quickly enough.

I went up to the teacher and asked if I could have the note back.

She said no.

“But it’s an original poem that John wrote!” I exclaimed.

“It’s a note that was passed in class,” she replied quite sternly. “Now go to home room.”

She then turned her back to erase the board and prepare for her next class. I hesitated for a moment and then slipped the poem off her desk, hid it in the pages of my chemistry book and hustled to home room, which followed the first period of the day.

Home room was only 15 minutes long and was used for attendance, announcements, and getting our books together for the rest of the day. About five minutes in, the chemistry teacher came storming in and told the home room teacher that she needed to ‘borrow’ me. The home room teacher nodded and the chemistry teacher came up to me and told me to give her the note, which I did. Then she said to follow her. I started to pick up my books, but she told me to leave them.

As we went out into the hall, I asked her where we were going.

“To the vice principal’s office for a paddling,” she said in her stern voice.

A flush came over me. I had been spanked by my mother when younger, but nothing since before puberty, so maybe three years. And I had never been spanked by anyone else, other than games we played in gym class, but that’s another story. I was so nervous I was shaking.

“But it wasn’t even my note, and I didn’t try to read it during class!” I begged.

“You took it off my desk,” she said very matter-of-factly.

“It’s an original poem and I was afraid you were going to throw it away,” I said as we headed down the stairs toward the vice principal’s office.

“That’s no excuse for taking it off my desk, and you are going to learn a lesson for your arrogance,” she said.

By this time we were at the vice principal’s office, which was open, so we went on in. He was a tall and well-built guy who always wore a suit. I never saw him smile.

“This young man needs a paddling,” the chemistry teacher said.

“Okay,” said the vice principal, and he began standing up, picking up his school paddle which apparently he kept on the floor by his desk.

He hadn’t even asked her why. ‘This is so unfair,’ I thought.

“How many would you like him to get?” he asked the chemistry teacher. “One, two, five?”

I remember so well hearing those numbers. I thought to myself that I could take one or two, but not five.

“I think three should be sufficient,” the chemistry teacher said.

I felt relief and fear at the same time.

Then the principal said something that really shocked me: “Would you like to do it?” he asked the chem teacher. “Or do you want me to?”

“I would like you to this time,” she replied.

I remember quickly thinking that I wished she had taken the paddle. Partly because she was so much smaller and probably couldn’t hit as hard. But partly because she was a woman. There was something exciting as well as scary about being punished by a female who was not my mom. And she had said “this time,” implying that if there was a next time that she would be doing the paddling.

These thoughts must have run through my brain in two seconds or less, because the vice principal was now telling me to put my hands on his desk. He told me to move my feet closer to the desk, and then he took the paddle and pushed against the inside of my legs so that my feet were further apart. That was so embarrassing! I felt like a cow being positioned for a milking.

As I did this I noticed that the chemistry teacher sat down in a chair in the office with a smirk on her face. I thought she was going to leave and I would be paddled in private. But no, she wanted to watch.

I was wearing thin black slacks with tight white underpants beneath. We weren’t allowed to wear jeans to school, and I knew the slacks would give me no protection, but maybe the cotton briefs would. This was before males wore anything except 100% cotton.

When the vice principal had me in his preferred position, he tapped my bottom twice with the paddle, paused, and then gave me a thunderous whack. It stung a lot, but I thought to myself that I could handle this. Then came the second: Tap tap, pause, whack! Oh my goodness it stung! But I was trying to be stoic and not make a sound. It was my way of showing the chemistry teacher that she was wrong about this whole thing. I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of showing how much it hurt.

Then came the last swat: Tap, tap, pause, WHACK! This was the hardest of all, and I could not help myself. I let out an “ow” and jumped up.

“I didn’t tell you to take your hands off the desk,” the principal said sternly, and pushed on my back so I was once again bent over.

Now I was confused. I had taken my three swats. But I understood when I heard the principal ask the chem teacher, “Are you satisfied, or does he need more?”

“I think that’s enough,” she said. I could hear the smirk in her voice.

The vice principal went back behind his desk and placed the paddle on the floor. He looked at me, still bent over so that our faces were close together.

“Do you believe that justice has been done?” he asked me.

I didn’t know what to say. I thought the whole thing was very unfair, but I didn’t want to get in more trouble.

“No, Sir,” I said meekly.

“Oh?” he said, picking up his paddle. “So you need a couple more swats?”

“No, Sir!” I said.

“Then you must think justice has been done,” he said.

“Yes, Sir,” I said, meekly again. I felt bad that I didn’t have the courage to stick to my beliefs, but it was clear that would lead to more paddling.

The principal told me I could stand up. Then he asked me my name, after the punishment was over! I told him and he wrote it down in a little notebook on his desk.

The chemistry teacher was still sitting in the chair. She had one leg crossed over the other, and she was rocking her foot forward and back, almost like it was pointing at me and making fun of me. She had quite the smile on her face.

She looked at the principal. “Sometimes these honor students need the arrogance paddled out of them,” she said.

He smiled and said, “I agree completely.”

He signed a hall pass, told me that home room was over and I was late to the next class, and told me to get moving. I left. I was glad that the halls were empty. I knew my upper cheeks as well as my lower cheeks were bright red, and I thought it would be obvious to other kids that I had just been paddled.

I had to go to home room to get my books, but a class had already started in there. I very meekly knocked on the door and asked the teacher if I could get my books. She nodded. Then I hustled to my next class, which had the same honor students as in chemistry. I knew some of them would know what happened; I felt like all of them would.

I gave the hall pass to the teacher and slipped into my seat. Ouch! My butt on the hard plastic seat was very uncomfortable. I glanced at John, who was looking my way. I realized I still didn’t know if the chemistry teacher was going to throw out his poem. I had gotten paddled, and achieved nothing. I felt miserable and couldn’t pay attention the rest of the day. I kept feeling the results of the paddling every time I sat down, squirming in my seat.

To get home, I would take a city bus and then walk about half a mile. I always rode the bus with a good friend, a black girl who played clarinet with me in the marching band. For some reason I felt a need to tell somebody what had happened, so I told her. She listened quietly and was very sympathetic. My true confession drew us closer together, and we are still friends on Facebook so many years later.

I was conflicted about telling my parents. I knew they were against corporal punishment in school, and I was afraid they would make a big fuss. I wound up not saying anything until years later.

When I got home I was intensely curious to see what my bottom looked like. The only full-length mirror was in my parents’ room and I was afraid to drop my pants in there. So I went into the bathroom I shared with my older sister and climbed on the edge of the bathtub so I could try to see my butt in the medicine-cabinet mirror. It was a bit hard to see, but it looked like there was the beginning of a bruise on my right cheek. The next day it was quite obvious.

The next day John told me that the chemistry teacher had returned his poem. He said that he was shocked when I took it off her desk. He definitely wouldn’t have done that, he said, and the poem was not that big a deal. So really I brought the paddling on myself.

It did get around among the honors students that I had been paddled. The girls thought it was funny and some giggled at me. The boys were impressed; it was like a badge of honor. As time went on, I became even sort of glad that it had happened. I had long been curious about what a school paddling felt like, and now I knew. And the memory has never faded. More than 55 years later, it seems like yesterday. And over time I have realized that I was a bit arrogant and definitely deserved those three swats.