This memory is from 1972 when I was 11 years old. I was in my first year at secondary school. It was a comprehensive school for girls aged 11 to 14 and the teachers were a lot stricter than the ones at the mixed infants I had previously attended. I had an older sister already at the school and so I knew which teachers it was better to not get on the wrong side of. However, Miss Marshall, my English teacher, was also new to the school and was something of an unknown quantity. In the first few weeks she seemed to be not too fierce though, compared to some of the older teachers.
The Headmistress was also a new arrival so not much was known about her either.
English was one of my best subjects and I enjoyed Miss Marshall’s classes. On this day, though, we were all supposed to have written a poem for our homework and I had forgotten to do it. I only remembered when she told us to get our homework books out for her to collect. Even then, I didn’t think it would matter much that I hadn’t done it and expected she would just ask for it to be done later.
There were 28 of us in her class, and the desks were arranged in four rows of seven. My desk was in the middle of the back row.
Miss Marshall started at the end of the first row, collecting an exercise book and giving the homework a cursory glance to make sure it had been done, and then moving on to the next girl. She would read through and mark them all later.
She had collected three girls’ books when she reached the middle of the front row and a girl called Coleen admitted that she hadn’t done it. Miss Marshall then shocked her and the rest of the class by sending Coleen to the Headmistress. The girl went white with fear but did as she was told. I could see that she was shaking as she headed out of the classroom to make the trip along the corridor. I was terrified too as I had not even considered that there might be such dire consequences.
None of us in that class had been sent to the Headmistress before and did not know what awaited us but, in the comics and school stories we read, it usually meant severe, painful punishments involving slippers, straps or canes.
The thought of being sent to the Headmistress terrified me. I had never even had a smacked bottom before.
However, Coleen was much naughtier than me in general, which is why she was made to sit right at the front where the teacher could keep an eye on her, so I clung to the hope that she had already had a final warning and that I might not be treated so harshly.
Miss Marshall waited until Coleen had left the room before continuing to collect the books. Three more girls in the front row handed in their work but when she started on the second row, another girl admitted to having not done her homework. This girl, Juliet, was a very quiet, well behaved girl, even more than me, so when she too was sent to the Headmistress, my heart sank and I knew that I was not going to get away with it. Juliet was already crying before she left the room.
I knew that Coleen must already be in the Headmistress’s study, either being punished or being made aware of what her punishment would be. I had a vision of her being told to bend over the desk while the Headmistress flexed her cane.
When Juliet had gone, Miss Marshall continued collecting the books. She had reached the end of the second row and was just starting on the third when Coleen re-entered the classroom. To our surprise, she was not crying or clutching her bottom but looked greatly relieved. Miss Marshall looked as surprised as the rest of us and asked the girl what the Headmistress had done. Coleen told her that she had told her to make sure she did it tonight, handed it in first thing in the morning, and to make sure she did it on time in the future. Miss Marshall slammed down her pile of books on the desk in front of her.
“If you want a thing done properly, you have to do it yourself!” she exclaimed. Then she took hold of Coleen’s arm and marched her to the front of the classroom. Behind her desk there was a door which led to a store room full of books. She opened the door, turned on a light and ordered Coleen inside. Then she pulled open a drawer on her desk and took out an old and rather worn looking carpet slipper with a thick leather sole. She followed Coleen into the store room and closed the door behind her.
Everyone’s eyes were fixed on the store room door, even though we could not see what was happening behind it. I opened my exercise book and picked up my pen. I had no idea how long the teacher would be gone but I thought that if only I could have something in my book to show her, I might yet escape the fate of the girl in the store room.
I started to write. I didn’t know what I was writing; I had no time to think.
There was a loud Whack! from behind the door and this spurred me on. After 4 or 5 seconds there was another. Even through the wall it sounded loud and painful. I scribbled furiously. After the third whack, Juliet came back into the classroom looking relieved, just as Coleen had done. However, her expression changed when she saw, firstly that Miss Marshall was not there, secondly that Coleen’s seat was empty and then, when she heard the sound of Coleen’s bottom receiving its fourth smack with the slipper, Juliet stood rooted to the spot, just inside the door, unsure of what she should do.
I carried on scribbling as quickly as I could and Miss Marshall delivered another 2 resounding whacks to Coleen’s bottom. Shortly afterwards, Coleen and the teacher emerged from the store room and Coleen, looking very much the worse for wear, shuffled back to her seat, sniffling and rubbing her backside.
After briefly confirming that Juliet’s experience with the Headmistress had been the same as Coleen’s, Miss Marshall disappeared behind the door again with the unfortunate Juliet in tow.
I resumed my writing. Coleen’s punishment had taken less than a minute and Juliet’s would be the same, so my homework was not looking great. As I heard the slipper inexorably striking Juliet’s bottom, I was aware that time was running out and there was no way it was going to look finished.
Sure enough, when the sobbing girl rejoined the class and Miss Marshall, looking exhausted, put the slipper down on her desk, I was sure that my efforts would be in vain and that she would know exactly how I had tried to cheat my way out of a deserved spanking.
Miss Marshall returned to her task of collecting everyone’s homework and there were no further interruptions as she made her way along the third row. She reached the back row and I could not stop myself from trembling with fear as she got closer to the sight of my untidy, unfinished scribble.
As i have mentioned, my desk was in the middle of the back row and so there were only three girls to hand in their work before my potential show-time. I felt desperate to pee and I was sweating. Miss Marshall was now at Janice’s desk, the one next to mine.
“I haven’t done it Miss.”
Miss Marshall put down the pile of books on Janice’s desk and the two of them went to the store room. I had an extra minute in which to make my homework look finished. I focused on the writing as the rest of the class focused on Janice receiving her punishment.
When she came back, crying and dishevelled, Miss Marshall took my exercise book and glanced at my homework. It was nowhere near as neat or as well written as anything I had handed in before and she looked at me long and hard before closing the book and moving on to the next girl. I was sure she knew what I had been doing but could not prove it and so I was going to get away with it. For now, at least.