Southern California in the early seventies is the setting for the events I will describe. I attended elementary school in a suburban city in San Gabriel Valley. You might think California is a liberal state where they didn’t apply corporal punishment in school, but you would be wrong. I witnessed numerous paddlings in front of the class from 1st through 3rd grades. Once I was in 4th grade, there was never any hint of paddlings, so maybe there was some legislation or a school policy that ended that practice. It’s also possible Mrs C simply chose not to use corporal punishment.
Our first grade teacher, Mrs G, wasted no time introducing us to her intimidating paddle on our first day of school, but used it only occasional for greater offenses. When a paddling happened, it was a fairly serious affair, and offenders were required to retrieve the thick paddle from the coat closet, deliver it to Mrs G, then bend over to receive the stingy, humiliating swats in front of the whole class.
Our second grade teacher, Mrs E, was quite paddle-happy and applied it for all offenses, big or small, real or imagined. She used a variety of small paddles, but mostly ping pong paddles. I say ‘paddles’ because she had to replace them regularly, as she broke them on kid’s butts rather frequently. That said, no recipients ever seemed terribly distressed after being paddled, myself included, and a few kids seemed to enjoy playing class clown and acting out with dramatic antics during a punishment. It was so commonplace, that it had little deterrent effect and the class clowns used it as a means of entertainment or gratification. When paddled, they would jump high in the air, yelling “ooch,” “oach,” etc. It was a total distraction, and the teacher was being manipulated by the alpha clowns. In retrospect, this young, 26 year old lady, had no clue about how to educate second graders.
In third grade, things took a turn for the frightful. On the first day of class, Mrs K had a stern and intimidating demeanor. I don’t think she liked young kids at all. She was enthusiastic to show us her thick, intimidating paddle, and explained that she would accept no nonsense. We would be bent over a desk in front of the whole class, and receive several hard swats. This would apply for any noteworthy misdeeds.
One severe paddling from Mrs K’s class is burned into my memory, which is the main subject of this account. She used a tennis style paddle and would normally apply from five to seven very hard swats, sometimes resulting in tears and crying in front of the whole class. On this particular occasion, the unfortunate miscreant, I’ll call him Eric, was seen trespassing into the area of the playground designated for upper graders. Once we were back from lunch break, Mrs K seemed amused to have an opportunity to confront Eric in class, listen to him try to lie and talk his way out of it, then sentence him to a paddling. During the questioning and sentencing, the whole class was silent and paying full attention, as with all imminent paddlings. Eric had been paddled by Mrs K at least once before, and apparently, he wasn’t as intimidated, since he knew more or less what to expect, or so he thought!
Eric was instructed to bend over his desk, as per standard practice. It happened to be facing my desk and about 8 feet in front of me, so I had a close view of the ordeal. Mrs K then delivered the first swat. Apparently, Eric felt compelled to lighten the strict atmosphere by making a high-pitched “whooo” noise and making a funny face. This was followed by light giggles from a few in our class. Mrs K then delivered the second swat, after which Eric made a louder “whooo” noise, accompanied by more histrionics. As you can imagine, this was followed by even more laughter among the class. In this moment, I felt a brief spell of relief, like the tension had been lifted and we weren’t necessarily under the total control of a sadistic governess who could hurt and humiliate any one of us at her pleasure. That moment concluded when a slight smirk appeared in the normally somber expression on Mrs K’s face. She then promptly delivered about five super hard swats in rapid-fire succession. Eric was clearly in total distress with his eyes nearly popping out of the sockets. Mrs K mockingly asked Eric if he still felt like clowning around. Eric proceeded to erupt in tears and crying. He slowly stood up from his bent over position, thinking his severe punishment was over, as did I and probably the rest of the class. But Mrs K immediately instructed him to stay bent over, since those were extra swats as punishment for his clowning. Next, she proceeded to complete the three swats remaining before his extra swats were added. Mrs K did so at a more normal severity and with a five second delay between swats. Eric continued blubbering and whimpering during and after the final swats. I think the whole class was a bit horrified. We all feared Mrs K and pitied poor Eric, that’s for sure!