Lesson learned

I grew up in the southeastern United States in the 60s and 70s. My math-science teacher in seventh grade was a young and attractive woman named Mrs Nielson.

One day early in the year, the whole class became so noisy that Mrs Nielson told us all to come back after school. But the first football game was that afternoon (that may have been the cause of our excitement that got out of hand). Many of us had bought tickets and reserved a place on the chartered bus that would take us downtown to the stadium.

It was a dilemma. I was among those who took their chances and went to the game anyway, giving little thought to possible consequences. The next day, at the beginning of our block class, Mrs Nielson informed us that everyone who failed to show up for the previous day’s detention would have to report that day and stay a full hour, rather than the half hour that she had imposed the day before.

She didn’t call out any names and, as far as I could tell, had not kept a list. Would she notice if one student skipped out of the punishment both days? I decided it was worth a try. Even if I got caught, it couldn’t be too bad. I was one of the best students in the class. Normally I drew nothing but praise from her.

Well, she did notice and she was not pleased. There was anything but praise when I arrived the next day. “Stay here when everyone else leaves for lunch,” she told me. I was beginning to regret trying to get away without staying after school. I would regret it even more.

After the others left, Mrs Nielson closed the door, looked at me with a combination of anger and disappointment and said: “I really never expected this of you. Since you failed to come back after school not once but twice, you’ve left me no other choice.” She reached behind a filing cabinet and pulled out a wooden paddle. It was about a foot long, including the handle, four or five inches wide and maybe a quarter to a half-inch thick.

“I don’t like to have to paddle my students but sometimes it is necessary. This is one of those times. Come up here.”

I could feel the blood rushing to my face. I swallowed hard as I got up and walked to her desk. She had told us about paddling an eighth-grade boy in one of her other classes, but she had not paddled anyone in our class to that point. She had me bend over with my forearms flat against the desk. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her raise the paddle. I involuntarily tensed up.

WHACK! The paddle landed squarely across my rear. It stung more than any spank I had ever gotten. There was a pause. WHACK! The second one made my eyes watery. A whispered “Ow!” escaped my mouth.

“Now, wouldn’t it have been better to come back after school?” she asked. “Yes, ma’am,” I mumbled.

WHACK! WHACK! The next two came close together, one on each cheek. I was really sore now, but I refused to break down and cry. I gritted my teeth and shut my eyes tightly. “Almost finished,” she said, seemingly trying to sound reassuring.

WHACK! WHACK! She landed each of the last two solidly across both cheeks at once.

“When you are ready, you may leave,” she said. I thought about telling her I would never disobey her again, but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. I imagine she knew that anyway!

She was only an average size woman, but the paddling she gave me was as hard as any I ever got – even in a couple of trips in later years to the office of the (male) vice-principal.

Contributor: Thad

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