A new teacher sets the standard

By Joanna Jones

After completing a degree in geography, and my teacher training, I got my first job in a school in Aberdeen (in north eastern Scotland) in 1969. As for every new teacher, you knew you would be tested by some pupils to see what the boundaries were. Every piece of advice was; start tough and you can always relax it a bit later. ‘Tough’ at the time basically meant The Belt.

I was not especially keen on the prospect of whipping a two tailed tawse onto a pupil’s hands and remembered rather too clearly being on the receiving end as a pupil, and not always fairly. However, based on the advice from some older teachers I acquired one, and a parcel from ‘Lochgelly’ was waiting for me when I arrived on my first day. It held a standard (for that school) ‘Heavy’ belt. I put it in my desk’s top drawer; I did not wish carry it on my shoulder under my suit jacket as certain of my colleagues did. Furthermore, to me most of the teachers I recalled doing that at school were generally the ones that seemed to be the ‘nutcases’, who seemed to enjoy belting rather too much. While they certainly kept order, they did not in general get much respect.

In general I found I did not need to use it often. My limits were tested by a few boys early on, and a couple of normally well behaved boys got it for fighting as I arrived for registration, but in general I found it kept as a relatively rare sanction.

Ironically the only girl I gave it to in my first year was a Sixth Former, Lesley Clarke.

One of the perils of bring a young, and dare I say it myself, fairly handsome member of the staff, is the risk that a girl may develop some form of “Crush”. I suspect in most cases a member of staff never suspects as the girl is too shy or sensible to do anything about it. Sometimes it goes as far as a series of chats on ‘difficult’ points of the course material, and a friendly, professional, detached manner keeps the issue at bay until things move on.

With Lesley Clarke it was different. She was redoing her ‘Higher’ Geography as part of an attempt to improve her scores to get into a university course she really wanted to do. Seemingly every week she would be at my door with some problem with the course or another.

This developed into chats on other issues that were irrelevant to her schooling, which I tried to discourage without being unhelpful. Then after Christmas she started quietly accosting me in the corridor. I would hear a phrase muttered like ‘Hello Handsome’ as she pranced past. I was not entirely sure what to do about it and generally tried to ignore it, although I did warn her it must stop on a couple of occasions.

It came to a head in February when I was discussing an issue in the corridor with the Head of Geography. In the middle of my conversation I was distracted by a “It’s the Incredible Hunk” or something similar as Lesley went past with her best friend giggling. My initial intention was to ignore it.

However, Mrs Graham, a fifty year old with a strict disciplinary streak, suddenly said: “You’re not going to let her off with that are you? Because if you won’t deal with it, I will.”

As she gathered her breath to call them back I quickly forestalled her and shouted: “Clarke, Donalds! Back here now!”

After they more reluctantly returned I proceeded to give Lesley a strict dressing down about her rudeness, and that I would not tolerate it anymore. All of course under the glare of Mrs Graham, who was my line manager and mentor as a new teacher. It was clear from her body language that she was not going to be satisfied with merely a ‘telling off’.

My last comment was: “Lesley if there is any repeat, I will have no option but to belt you!” She gulped at that but my mentor still did not look satisfied. So I added quickly: “And I promise you it will not be a nominal tap but a full six and they will be very hard! Is that understood?” Mrs Graham had raised an eyebrow at this point but seemed a little more satisfied.

Lesley looked shocked and muttered: “Yes,” as she made to leave.

I said firmly: “Yes, what!?”

“Yes, Sir,” was the reply as she scuttled away.

I meanwhile received a bit of advice from Mrs Graham, who was unimpressed that these comments had been going on for some time, the source of the disapproval I had felt. She now understood why I had not belted her there and then, but also felt that six was harsh. However, her final comment was that if there was a repeat I must carry out my threat to the letter, my credibility would be line if I did not!

I sincerely hoped Lesley would avoid any repeat, and indeed for a couple of weeks she did behave much more as I expected a ‘normal’ pupil in the class to do.

However, the ‘advice’ meetings started to increase again and then, about a week before the Easter break, she left her latest meeting on the final stages of her project with me, saying the words: “Thanks handsome!” With a cheeky grin on her face.

I felt really disappointed but I knew I had no option.

Putting on my most serious expression I said “Clarke, come back here!”

Her face fell a little and she came back to my desk.

“What did I say would happen if you treated me in a less than professional manner?”

Her jaw dropped and she looked at me in shock. Her eventual response was “Please, I didn’t mean it.”

I knew I had to be implacable. “What did I say?” I repeated with a firmness I certainly did not feel. We both, I think, knew where this was going. The only question was how long it would take to get there.

Longer than I would like was the message. Tears were falling down Lesley’s cheeks by the time she eventually stammered: “You, you said you’d belt me. Please don’t.”

I felt sorry for her, but pressed on. “And exactly how did I say I was going to belt you?” I asked.

“Oh no, please, no,” was the initial response. I held her eye and eventually after what seemed like many minutes, she looked down and continued. “You said you’d give me six and, and they would be hard. Pease, I’m sorry.” She looked at me again. I have to say the look she was giving me was pulling somewhat at my heartstrings.

I hardened myself again, opened the top drawer of my desk and placed my belt on the table. She stared at it in what I can only describe as horror. She was shaking her head slightly as if in disbelief at what was happening, though fortunately the tears had stopped, at least temporarily.

“I am sorry Lesley,” I said. “You can’t say I did not give you enough warnings. Now let’s get this over with and we can both move on.”

I picked up the belt from the table and motioned for her to stand. Ignoring her final plea I ordered her to place her left hand on her right straight in front of her.

Her hands were shaking as I adjusted her hand height as I wanted and then stood facing her. I put the belt over my shoulder and, as promised, I brought it down hard on her small hand.

There was an almighty SLAP followed by a ‘oo-ooh’ sound from Lesley. She immediately started to try to clamp her hand under her arm.

“Keep your hands out!” I ordered sternly. “I don’t want to see them move until I’ve finished with you! Is that clear?”

“Yes sir,” she squeaked as she reluctantly placed her left hand out on top of her right again. I whipped my belt down onto her palm a second time, causing another gasp of pain from her. Tears had started flowing down her cheeks once again.

She did, however, manage to keep her hands in position, and after I delivered the final stroke to her left hand fairly quickly, she rewarded my efforts with a loud scream of pain and waved her left hand around in the air to try to assuage the pain.

I was determined to try and make this as unpleasant as possible for her, mainly in the hope I could put an end to her irrational infatuation for good.

I grabbed her hand and said: “I told you to keep your hands out! Right hand over left, now!”

She looked at me in shock, as I angrily stared into her face, tear tracks running down her cheeks. However, she did manage to comply with my order.

“This time keep them there.” I said as I raised the belt over my shoulder for the fourth time. I brought it sharply down on her pale white hand and watched the palm and fingers redden as the effects of the stroke sank in. She gasped but managed to keep her hand held out.

As I brought the belt down a fifth time her resolve left her at the last moment and she tried to move the hands out the way to one side. I managed to partially check the stroke but she still screamed as the remaining force of the belt landed on her left thumb. Within seconds it was in her mouth as if she was trying to suck out the agony that it must have been in.

I was furious, but gave her a few seconds to recover before telling her that moving her hands was cowardly and dangerous. Finally I ordered her to put her hands straight out again and that I was going to repeat the fifth stroke. She gasped and pleaded at that, but eventually her hands were back out in position. I noticed this time she was shaking slightly from the legs upwards. Her face was screwed into a grimace with set teeth and her reddened eyes tightly closed.

Putting the belt back over my shoulder I brought it down hard on the target to a screech from Lesley, and when she did not move I quickly completed her punishment with the last whack slapping loudly around my classroom to another wail of pain from a very sorry young lady.

As soon as the last blow was complete she clamped her hands under her arms to try to assuage the pain, and hopped around on the spot.

I picked up her bag and handed it to her saying: “I hope, Lesley, I never have to do that again! Is that clear?”

“Yes Sir,” was the pained reply as she finally went on her way, presumably to the girls’ loos to clean up her face, which was a mess. Her bag was over her shoulder, with her hands still clamped under her armpits.

It did work. While she did come and see me occasionally in the pre-exam panic after Easter, there were no more doe-eyed looks to ignore, and of course no more inappropriate phrases. I was delighted she finally got a ‘B’ in geography and managed to get into the course she wanted at University.

The End