Belt up, Miss, just don't use it

16th March 2007 at 00:00
Penny Ward teaches at Carnoustie High Is it draughty up there," asked a colleague, "on your high horse?"

I was well annoyed about whatever it was. But even I wasn't prepared for my reply. "They should," I pronounced mightily, "bring back the belt."

Did I really think that? I'd been traumatised by my fear of the belt as a pupil, cringeing at the sound of harsh leather on tender flesh echoing in the corridors. Perhaps if I had been belted, and realised that I could survive it, it would have been better for me.

As a young teacher, we were expected to use the belt. It seemed two-faced not to, as pupils were usually belted if they were sent to senior staff. I hated it. One thing to threaten, another to have to hit someone in cold blood.

I did it twice. The second time, I felt I was the loser. We had a PE teacher playing the hard man who would belt a kid on any pretext on their first day - dyslexic kids belted for bad spelling and whole classes belted by incompetent teachers.

So why was I suddenly thinking it was a good idea? I think I'd had enough of the low-grade disruption, of the grubby careless jotter work, of the cheek, of the constant insults between pupils.

I'd see the lack of homework, the slovenly dress, the blatant disregard of school rules. I was frustrated by pupils who were not reaching their potential, and who didn't give a hoot.

So yes, I wanted to hit back, literally, because I knew that, in real terms, the threat of the belt would stop most of the nonsense. I was even willing to let one sacrificial goat get hammered for the sake of the others. I could almost hear the whack and the groan.

Then a senior member of staff came for three miscreants. "Bring your bags!"

he thundered. Whatever they'd done, if there had been a belt, they'd be in for it. Three scruffy, malnourished little toe-rags. Who could hit them?

I'm glad there is no belt. I think we do need better ways of enforcing rules, and we do need to find a way to encourage better work and better behaviour - but not by hitting. My feet safely on the ground, off my high horse, I can recognise those days are gone. Thank heavens.

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