When I was growing up, kids got paddled at school. No one thought much about it. I think they did send a form home at the beginning of the year for parents to sign if they didn’t want corporal punishment used on their son or daughter, but I don’t think many of them came back to school signed.
Boys got paddled way more often than girls. Those of us of the fairer sex were typically assigned detention instead, which was fine with me. I was usually really good. I had received more than my fair share of detentions, but normally just for talking in class or being late.
Every so often, someone would get in trouble in class and the teacher would take them into the hallway and you would soon hear the loud crack of the paddle echo from the hall. Boys would typically come back with a smirk, putting on a brave face. If a girl was paddled, she would often come back fighting back tears. Either way, the room was always quiet and well behaved for the rest of the class. I usually thought the punishment was well deserved.
There was one teacher whose paddling habits I questioned even then. Mr C, was my math teacher for my senior year. I remember a sudden wave of fear the first day of class when he announced that anyone caught not having their homework done would get a swat.
After the initial shock, I decided it was probably just a threat and surely a teacher couldn’t paddle a kid just for not doing their homework. After a week of school and not seeing anyone get swats, the idea was pretty much forgotten.
Each day as we were going over the problems from last night’s homework, he would randomly call students to the front of the room to write a homework problem and answer on the board. This time, one student that was called up was a boy named Sean. He quickly wrote down the problem, but it was obvious he was trying to figure out the answer on the fly instead of copying it from his paper.
“Let me see your homework,” Mr C said, and suddenly everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at Sean.
Mr C looked at Sean’s blank worksheet and walked to the closet in the corner of his room.
“Stand to the side of my desk, young man,” he said as he took a paddle out.
“He’s going to do it in front of all of us?” The question wasn’t spoken, but I think we were all thinking it.
Sean wasn’t really a troublemaker, but I knew he had been paddled before and he didn’t seem too fazed at the prospect of getting it again. I think he was more embarrassed at the thought of getting it in front of everyone. I was sitting up in my seat with my eyes wide.
Mr C walked back to the desk.
“Everyone close your eyes and put your head on your desk,” he ordered us. “If I catch you watching you’ll be up here too.”
We all quickly followed his orders. We weren’t able to watch, but we heard. He gave Sean instructions on how to stand. To lean over the desk. And after a pause, that probably seemed much longer than it was, the silence of the room was filled with a crack that caused me to jump a little.
“Take your seat, Sean.”
I heard Sean walking back to his desk, but I don’t think anyone dared move yet.
“OK. Let’s take a look at problem number one,” and just like that Mr C switched back to our lesson.
Sean had his homework done the next day. So did everyone else.
The paddle came out of the closet once every week or two, and both boys and girls would get their swat for not doing their homework. Even the girls said that he didn’t hit very hard and it was more embarrassing than painful, but I wasn’t taking any chances and made sure my work was done every night.
By the middle of the year, the shock had worn off and I no longer felt bad for the kids that got paddled. They knew the consequences and should have done their work.
I was afraid to get paddled even if it wasn’t painful, but I was curious what it was like. Every time, he told us to close our eyes with our heads on our desks and every time I did. Sometimes I was tempted to peek and watch, but never did. Until one day!
I closed my eyes and put my head down on my arms like every other time. This time, I opened my eyes, but found my view was blocked by my long wavy brown hair. I quickly reached up and pushed my hair to the side, looked towards the front of the room, and found Mr C looking right at me, just as today’s victim was bending over the desk. I quickly shut my eyes tight.
I heard his final instructions, and the crack of the paddle just like every other time.
Everyone raised their heads, ready for class to resume. I paused for a moment and was surely the last one to look up. Mr C made eye contact with me again, but didn’t say anything before resuming the lesson.
I felt relieved, and I convinced myself that I had avoided punishment since I wasn’t actually looking during the swat. Only before.
By the time the bell rang, I had forgotten about it and assumed Mr C had as well.
Next day, back at our homeroom, the room was full of talking and giggling and, as usual, a good portion of it was coming from me. I was talking with my friend Mary who sat next to me, chatting about boys, gossiping, and showing off my new black flats that matched my long black skirt and went so well with my red knit sweater.
Finally, our homeroom teacher started to quiet us down as the morning announcements started over the loudspeaker. My friend and I, however, continued to silently continue our conversation through eyerolls, pointing, and mouthing words. Who cares about musical tickets and the recent track meet.
“Sorry Ms S,” I replied with another eye roll.
“Did you hear your name called? They want you in the office.”
I felt everyone’s eyes on me as I gathered my purse and backpack and walked out of the room. I had never been called to the office before. ‘Maybe I just needed to sign a form or something,’ I thought, but deep down I knew it had something to do with yesterday’s math class.
The outer office was busy, but quiet, as the secretaries went about their morning work. One of them told me to take a seat and wait for the principal to call me into his office.
Thankfully it wasn’t a long wait. “Miss Hayes?” came a call from his office.
The principal, Mr M glanced up from his desk as I nervously walked in. “Put your belongings down and take a seat.”
“Mr C says you are a little too curious and tried to watch another student getting paddled in his classroom,” he said, reading from some papers before looking up at me. “Is that true?”
“Yes,” I answered a lot weaker than I intended. I stared at my lap and played with the hem of my sweater.
“Mrs E, please come to my office,” he said into the intercom on his desk.
“He seems to think, and I agree,” he continued, talking to me again, “that we should settle your curiosity with some swats of your own.”
My heart sank. ‘Did he say swats, plural?’ I asked myself.
Mrs E, the female assistant principal, entered his office, shutting the door behind her.
“Miss Hayes is going to get three swats this morning, Mrs E,” he told her as he stood up and took a paddle out of his desk. It was a little bigger than the one Mr C used and had holes drilled in it.
“Stand here and face the desk,” he said to me, pointing with the paddle.
My legs felt heavy and I felt myself shaking as I stood up and walked to the spot in front of him.
Why couldn’t this have happened yesterday when I was wearing jeans? Thankfully, my skirt was long, but the material was very thin and I knew it would pull tight in the back when I bent over.
I was thankful to have a woman in the room with me, but was secretly hoping she’d step in and say we should put it off until tomorrow so I could wear something else. Maybe even suggest that I should have detention instead. Mrs E stood silently.
“Anything in your pockets?” He asked. Clearly, that was a required procedure since he could easily see my skirt didn’t even have pockets at all. I couldn’t talk and just shook my head.
“Lean forward with your forearms on the top of the desk.”
I followed his instructions, still in shock this was actually happening. I closed my eyes and lowered my head, causing my hair to fall like a curtain around my face.
“Lift your head and look straight ahead.”
I raised my head and looked up, but barely saw anything other than my now misplaced hair. I didn’t dare reach up to fix it.
A moment of eerie silence was suddenly filled with the loud crack of the first swat. It stung much worse than I ever imagined, and it was now obvious that Mr C’s swats were just for show and to embarrass students into doing their homework.
“One,” Mr M said, a moment before a second loud crack.
It hurt even worse than the first one. Tears filled my eyes and I was glad my hair was hiding my face.
There was a longer pause, followed by the third swat. I swear it was even harder.
I could feel the tears now running down my face.
“Stand up and get back to class. I hope to never see you again,” he said sternly.
My butt felt like it was on fire as I stood up and started gathering my things.
As I reached the door, Mrs E handed me a hall pass. “Go to the girls room and take as much time as you need to freshen up, Sarah,” she said with a sympathetic voice and look. I almost wanted to hug her.
I went to the nearest girls room as quickly as I could without running. After I stopped crying, I fixed my makeup and then just stood there until the bell rang for the next period.
It hurt to sit down, but it slowly got better as the day went on and I was managing okay until it was time for math class.
“Lesson learned, Miss Hayes?” Mr C cracked with a smile as soon as I walked into his room. I couldn’t look at him for the rest of the week.