I've been inspired by one of the comments on yesterday's post to reflect on what led to punishment - and in particular corporal punishment - in my schooldays. Bun, for example, recalls being belted because she and her friend were singing "Bobby's Girl" and banging the desk (presumably twice) for rhythmic effect, on the last day of term when no work was being done. She was also belted on several occasions for talking by (and this is where insider knowledge comes in) the Depute Head of the Primary school we both attended. He was a quiet little man, I remember, a BSc of Glasgow University, probably in his early 50s at the time. I was never belted by him.
But I was belted twice in my time at school. In Primary school I was singled out for bouncing a tiny ball in the sewing class (never did like sewing) and in Secondary for - yes - talking. In Maths, in S1. The young woman who was trying to teach a class of 40 bright girls in our selective school was foolish enough to tell all who were talking at that moment to put their hands up. At least half the class obliged, and she lined us all up on the floor and belted us, one after the other. By the time she reached me she was exhausted, though I suspect she would have saved more energy had the first victim, a tall girl called Lindsay, not whipped her hands back and said "Oh, miss, not me first!" And then she laughed. Fatal.
See how we remember? It was half a century ago and I can remember it exactly. So you might think it worked, as a punishment - but you'd be wrong. I remember the incidents because of their absurdity, an absurdity which I recognised even then. For the misdemeanours were so trivial and so absurd that they merited ... what? And perhaps this is the problem. What do you do to suppress inappropriate behaviour in a classroom? Hitting someone actually does stop them doing whatever it was for a while - I didn't go on bouncing that ball, and I maybe didn't chatter again in that maths period. But I despised both teachers at the time. Did they not have any jokes up their sleeves with which to put us down? Did they never laugh at us?
I think it's probably magic right enough. If a pupil respects/likes/is interested by a teacher, they want to please him or her. The idea of my beloved Latin teacher even saying he was disappointed in something I did or didn't do was so horrifying that I worked my socks off in his class, and it was that memory that spurred me as a teacher to ensure that I wasn't boring. Because much of my education was incredibly boring, now I think back, and it was the sheer ability of the best teachers to transcend the potentially stupefying nature of the curriculum that kept me from expulsion. When I think of the hours spent copying out notes - off banda-ed sheets or from the board - I realise what an essentially douce bunch we were, and I recall the tedium of the periods in English where I sat in the very back corner reading a book under the desk and eating Mintolas. What kind of teaching was happening there?
I went to a respected selective school in Glasgow. We all passed the Qualifying to stay in the Secondary department. The potential in these classes was immense. But in my whole time there, the highlight of my school week was the orchestra practice after school on Fridays. The rest, as you might say, is silence.
Except for the chattering ...