I went to school in England in the early 1960s, at a time when corporal punishment was very common. I was beaten quite frequently when at secondary school, mostly on the hands with a cane or strap.
Although these punishments were very painful, they were by no means as memorable as the discipline I remember receiving while at primary school. I will describe some experiences when aged 10 and 11, in the class of the dreaded Miss Heath. She was the most feared and strictest teacher in the school and as we passed up through the classes, we all heard of her reputation and saw the results of her punishments on older boys and girls.
When I eventually entered her class, we were soon initiated into her regime of discipline. She was a great exponent of punishments on the legs and in those days there was plenty of opportunity because the boys wore little grey shorts and we girls all wore socks and little skirts.
She was fanatical about uniform. In particular, if you wore long socks and didn’t have them pulled neatly up to the knees, you would soon regret it. Children in her class were obvious for the frequency with which they reached down to pull up a slipping knee sock! Any other untidiness was also punished, usually with a smacking on the thighs or hands.
Miss Heath always had one or two ‘favourites’ on which she concentrated her attention. I seemed to be a particular target, partly because I was a very tall, lanky girl for my age and easily singled out. I also had very fair skin, so any marks from a smack or ruler were much more obvious than on the other children’s darker skin.
She smacked us with her hand sometimes, but her favourite instrument was a hard wooden ruler, which was applied frequently to our bare legs, and occasionally the hands or knuckles.
When patrolling the class during lessons she might, without warning, bring the ruler down on our hands or suddenly pull out a child’s chair and administer a smacking to the tops of the legs for some offence, sometimes without even saying what had been done wrong.
Usually, we would be told to stand on our chairs and wait, with our little knees shaking, for her to eventually come round and beat our legs. If she was at her desk we would have to come to the front of the class and stand on her right side so she could swing her ruler with most effect.
She rarely lifted our skirts; girls with long skirts usually got rulered behind or on the outsides of the knees or on the calves if they wore short socks. My legs were long and my skirt only came halfway down to my knees so, like the boys, I always got beaten on the thighs.
Miss Heath hated children trying to avoid or delay punishment so we virtually ran to her desk when summoned to avoid appearing to dawdle. During a beating, we were expected to stand with our legs absolutely still and our hands clasped in front.
If you bent your knees as if to soften the blows (even though it was a natural reaction to a stinging blow behind the leg), she would shout at you and often start all over again. I used to tighten the muscles in my legs and push my knees back as hard as I could to avoid this. One sensitive girl got 15 or 16 smacks instead of the normal four or six because she couldn’t stop jumping when the ruler hit her.
Unusually, Miss Heath was equally strict with both girls and boys. The big disadvantage for the boys was that their shorts gave them no chance to hide the marks on their legs, whereas most of the girls could cover some of the damage.
Her punishments also included a number of other (in retrospect, very strange) techniques. Once, when I was fidgeting in class, Miss Heath sharpened two pencils at both ends and made me stand on my chair, holding the two pencils between my legs.
She made me hold one pencil between my lower thighs and then she placed the other very precariously between my knees. A terrible, but unspecified punishment was promised if I dropped one pencil before the end of the lesson so I stood absolutely still for about 20 minutes, not daring to move at all to relieve the sharp points hurting my legs.
Other methods included having to hold a pencil on the fingers with arms held out, which was very sore on the shoulders after a while. Once, a boy had to adopt a sitting position (without a chair) and keep a ruler balanced on the his legs, with punishment to follow if it fell off.
Miss Heath always made sure the that the punishment which followed was much less preferable than trying to hold the uncomfortable position. If we committed a really silly or immature offence, we might have to go to the infants’ classes to explain to the little children what we had done and what punishment we had received.