Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Corporal Punishment

Unlike back in my junior high days when I received a swift swat from a large, ventilated paddle as punishment for running on the playground, these days it's a definite no-no for teachers to even touch one of their students.

The arrival of a substitute teacher normally means students have the license to misbehave and completely misrepresent a typical day's study and the character of their teacher to the sub. It was like having a snow day except at school. I still recall the crying faces of some of the frustrated young women who had been relegated to elementary school hell, i.e., our classroom.

Not so with Mr. Bemis. I'm sure he was in demand by teachers to take over the classroom during their absence but for us it meant a day of terror. A yardstick was always in hand as he walked around the room while speaking to us.

Without warning, that yardstick would come crashing down on the desk full force, narrowly missing someone's hands. Mr. Bemis showed no discrimination - the yardstick wasn't reserved for students who were talking or misbehaving in some manner; someone could be paying rapt attention but simply have their hands folded on top of the desk when he or she became the target.

Normally he aimed a few inches away, but I saw one time when that stick went straight for the hands and narrowly missed by literally an inch or two as the kid moved back just in time. Now, I never did see him actually hit anyone but you can imagine how unnerved we were, and also how quiet our class was when he came to visit.

My only recollection of a teacher actually hitting a student happened in Mr. Gallup's 5th grade class. Jesse was a certified juvenile delinquent who was famous throughout 36th Street School for having been expelled numerous times. No one messed with him, despite his rather small size. We'd never seen him actually fight but he was a legend in his own time - no one dared risk making him put his reputation on the line.

Except Mr. Gallup. Jesse had been in our class - or should I say in and out since his attendance was so sporadic - about two weeks when finally he and Mr. Gallup had it out. Jesse talked trash once too many times, so our teacher hauled him into the cloakroom to discuss his behavior. While we sat at our desks, no one brave enough to venture a peek at the activities, we heard plenty of banging and thumping and other sounds of mayhem.

There was plenty of speculation as to who was winning. Most actually thought Mr. Gallup was getting whupped in there.

A few minutes later, the teacher dragged the frowning student to the front of the class, right in the middle of the blackboard.

"Sit down!" commanded Mr. Gallup. Jesse stood there defiantly.

"I said, sit down!" and with that, Mr. Gallup kicked Jesse's feet forward, causing him to plop down on his tailbone. We all sat there, jaws hanging, awed by this rare sight of violence. Jesse tried fighting back and Mr. Gallup kept putting him back down on the floor. Secretly all of us were happy since we knew this kid was getting what he deserved.

A few days later, Jesse was gone from our class and our school.

The last incident for this entry happened on a rainy day when we were confined inside the building for lunchtime. Kitty was no match for Jesse but nevertheless she was on her way to a star on the juvenile hall walk of fame. She and the aide assigned to watch us were not getting along. Kittie was in the middle of more mouthing off when finally the aide had enough and slapped her really hard on the cheek. Some of us had been watching them argue and others immediately stopped in mid-conversation and turned to see what happened.

A stunned Kitty stared at the aide, who stared back at Kitty; she then ran out of the room. As with Jesse, since no one liked her we all felt she got what was coming to her.

Things returned to normal for about twenty minutes. Until Kitty returned. She returned accompanied by this huge woman who turned out to be Kitty's mama. Once again all conversation ceased and all eyes focused on the center of the ring to see what was going to happen in the match of the century.

Mrs. Kitty (or big Kitty? Kitty was kind of big but Mama Kitty was really big) confronted the aide. "Don't you be hittin' my daughter like that!" she screamed while shoving the aide. The aide, meanwhile, began apologizing profusely as Big Mama Kitty continued berating her. Finally she got to her last 'Don't you ever' and stormed off, smaller Kitty in tow, leaving the aide standing there in a state of embarrassment in front of all us witnesses.

A few minutes later Kitty walked back in to our confined area and immediately received red carpet VIP treatment from the aide.

"Is everything okay?" the aide asked Kitty. "Can I get you anything?"

Kitty sat there with a smug look on her face, looking like, well, like a satisfied cat. She just shook her head while the aide continued catering to her every whim. We were all disgusted by this display of groveling but hey, we hadn't been in the shoes of someone who just had to face a bear and came out of it alive.

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