The fear of the paddle


In my freshman year at Willis High School, a bunch of girls and I often went across William St. to the Deerlick Dairy to eat our lunch. We always packed our lunch, but wanted to have a coke or milkshake to go with it.

One day we were all laughing and talking when a man, wearing dirty shabby-looking clothing, walked by the front window. I shouldn’t have said anything, but I said something like, “Look at that dirty hobo out there.” There were several seconds of silence and then one of the girls at our table said, “That’s my Dad.”

Wow, then it was silent again. I felt terrible about having said such an awful thing about her dad. It seemed like a very long time passed before the silence was finally broken, by that same girl saying, “No, it’s not.” Wow.

I was so relieved and everyone laughed, but I wasn’t sure what to do. I should have remembered that our mother always said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

That situation took place back when we were allowed to leave school during lunch period, go downtown, or even walk home, eat lunch, and then walk back to school. Of course, we had to be back before the next period began.

In choir class, we wouldn’t get in trouble with our choir director if we spoke out in class and said something original. But, if we spoke out about something not original, we were in big trouble. I never spoke out, but I remember some boys sitting up in the back row calling out the word “Bubbles.”

She didn’t say anything at first. But for some reason, they couldn’t stop saying “bubbles bubbles, bubbles” and everyone started laughing and saying “bubbles.” It was quite awhile before she got the class settled down after that bubbles episode. Then, we were all in trouble.

There were a lot of notes being passed in our study halls. We had study hall in the school auditorium, and there had to be an empty seat between each of the students. I was one of the few seniors in a certain study hall because I had been put in the Band Class.

But, I wasn’t in the band. You had to have your own instrument to be in the band. I didn’t have an instrument, but I was put in with the band class, anyway. So, when they went to the band room or out to practice on the football field, I went to study hall. There was a sophomore boy one seat away from me who was fearless, because he was constantly passing notes around.

Getting to have an extra study hall every day was great for me. I needed it to get my homework done. This was necessary because I had a job after school every day. I babysat with two elementary-aged children until their parents got home from work. While there, I also fixed their family’s supper each day of my junior and senior years.

The only time I had to stay after school was when I was sitting at a table with 5 other students in junior high. Someone started kicking one of the others under the table. Then everyone was kicking each other under the table. I was in on it because I had to defend myself. The teacher told all six of us we had to stay after school for detention.

While on this topic of kids getting in trouble in class, a certain teacher in my junior year got so aggravated with one of the boys, he grabbed him by the front of his shirt and pushed him up against the blackboard. That’s when things got worse, because as he pulled on the boy’s shirt, a pack of cigarettes jumped out of the boy’s shirt pocket and fell to the floor.

You talk about things getting quiet and worse at the same time. I had never seen a teacher get that upset with a student.

I think what kept most of us in line was the fear of being paddled. We were never sure who was getting paddled for what, unless they told us later. I think the dreaded knock on the classroom door, then having someone tell the teacher the name of the student who was wanted in the principal’s office, was a sign of who was to be paddled. That’s what I thought was going on, anyway.

I remember being called to the office once, and was half sick thinking of what was going to happen to me when I got down there. I was sure I hadn’t done anything to be paddled for, but I didn’t know what might happen. It turned out that the principal only wanted to talk to me about reading some of the announcements over the loud speaker the next morning.

About 10 years ago, when I was tutoring at our elementary school down the street, I learned that students don’t get paddled any more.

They still have to spend time in the principal’s office, but with no threat of the dreaded paddle. From what I hear about keeping control over a classroom these days, maybe the fear of paddling isn’t such a bad thing. If it just stopped with the fear, and not with the paddle.

Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.

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