Thursday, 12 February 2009

Life beyond the belt


''Smiling approvingly to herself at the effect of only two strokes of the tawse on this persistent late-comer, Mrs Fraser raised the strap again and lashed it down vigorously to smash into the delicate flesh of Fiona's wavering right hand.

The tawse whacked into her stinging hand at full speed. It hurt even more than Fiona had been expecting. Her hand was knocked down by the force of the blow and Fiona almost fell over forward as she doubled over in an automatic reaction. Fiona stayed like that for a few seconds, crying audibly and desperately hoping that that was the end of it and that the headmistress would think that four strokes was sufficient. ''


1982 was the year I started my teaching career. This was the year the belt (known as the 'tawse' in Scotland) stopped being used in Scottish classrooms. At the time, I recall many in the profession expressing fear that this would be the end of schooling as we know it and that our Education system would go into terminal decline. In my view this could not have been further from the truth. The staff entering the profession in the past few years are products of a system that did not rely on belting young people with a piece of leather to maintain control and order. It is my view that these are young professionals who develop higher order skills to create the atmosphere in their classroom that allows learning to flourish.

By way of example,in the past two days, I have had the pleasure of observing two of our excellent younger staff (Ms Thayne in English and Ms Welsh in French)in the classroom. The lessons I saw were first class. A number of things really impressed me. Firstly, both displayed an excellent rapport with the pupils. Both had excellent classroom control; all pupils did as they were supposed to do. Anyone who stepped out of line was gently and skilfully brought back 'on task'. It was clear to me that the pupils in the classes were engaged and active learners, not because they were fearful of the consequences, but because they were sufficiently motivated and stimulated by their teachers to want to do well.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I am wholly convinced that the best teachers are the ones who develop excellent relationships with their charges. That is not to say that the best teachers are 'friends' with the pupils. What really matters is developing a professional relationship with pupils where a common set of values are shared, expectations are sky-high and where respect is always two way.

The second thing that really struck me was how comfortable and skillful both teachers were with using IT. Both showed me some great examples of how to use IT to engage and motivate pupils, in a way that simply wasn't available until quite recently.

A highlight of both the observations for me was, immediately after the lessons, when I engaged in dialogue with both staff about their lessons.

Despite the warnings of impending gloom from many in the profession, when the belt was outlawed in the early 80s, I believe that the standard of teaching on offer in classrooms, and the quality of relationships in schools are light years ahead of where we were 30 years ago.

6 comments:

ven said...

You may not have intended it but the quote at the beginning implies that there was some level of satisfaction for all teachers using the tawse or belt.

I was schooled in the North of England in a mixed grammar school where the belt was used by a number of 'Scottish trained' teachers. I only got it once from a youngish female teacher who was a near neighbour of ours.

She had been getting quite cross with our class for messing about and threatened that the 'next one to misbehave would be sorry!'I was normally a well behaved student, and indeed was top of that class by a mile, but for some unknown reason I carried on talking to my friend sitting behind me.She caught me and ... well it was out to the front and wait whilst she got the belt.As she passed behind me on the return she did say very quietly 'try to be brave...'

Surprising myself I took the strokes very stoically,but couldn't change hands when asked to do so. She didn't shout , just took my hands for me and swapped them.

Later in the day she saw me in the corridor and asked if I was ok. I said 'yes'. She said she was very proud of the way I'd taken the punishment.

In the evening I saw her 'over the wall' at home. she came to me and said she was very sorry she had to do that to me, but I would understand everyone must be treated alike, no matter how bright or what their normal conduct. I apologized to her for acting up.She said that wasn't necessary but thanked me.

I felt no resentment, or grudge . I am now a Professor in her subject at University- and we have remained good friends.

So there were some good teachers who built up good relations with students despite using the tawse ( which , incidentally stung like hell!).

Dj Macdonald said...

Hi Ven, thanks for taking the time to respond. I hadn't intended to imply that all staff got pleasure from using the belt!

On the contrary, I know of several, who used the tawse sparingly, as a last resort. I thought yours was a great story.

I recall a colleague sharing a similar story from her earlier days as a teacher where she once warned her entire Biology class that the next one to make a silly noise would be belted. On cue, one of the hamsters at the back of the classrooom duly obliged by squeaking loudly. The class and the teacher collapsed into fits of laughter; Biology had never been so much fun!

ven said...

Hi Donald

Thanks for the comments and story. Many years later my teacher friend told me that whilst that day I no doubt learned , admittedly in a pretty brutal way , not to talk in her class, she also learned something- never to be impetuous and to pick her words carefully!.

Everyone knew what she meant when she said the next misbehaving student would be sorry ( i.e. out would come the belt) but when it was her top student in the class whom she had never before even reprimanded , she wanted the earth to swallow her up there and then ! Whilst, of course the class was for once hushed, waiting to see if she was tough enough to follow through.

In future , she told me she always left 'wriggle room ' with any threat .....or promise!!!

Teaching has never been an easy option.....

Angela said...

The belt was a barbaric and very degrading to both pupil and teacher. If you ever do any research into the history of the belt (tawse), you will find that a major reason for its abolition was its sexual connections. This can be found on papers produced by S.T.O.P. There were obviously some teachers who got some perverse pleasure from belting children. I know of one female English teacher who voluntered to wait for latecomers in the morning and at lunchtime. She would line them up at the gate and then belt them. Needless to say everyone at sometime in the school got belted by her. The school was quite open to passers by who could observe the beltings. Ironically, this took place in 1970's and early 1980's after the code of conduct for tawse was introduced in 1968 which stated that the belt should not be used on pupils for being late.

JamesT said...

The "belt" in Scotland was a cruel abuse that was allowed to continue for far too long. A misguided saddler in Fife had been allowed, and even encouraged, to produce straps of such fearsome thickness and density that their effective use was nothing less than child torture. And these were used in the vast majority of Scottish schools including illegally, against the local authority’s wishes, in Glasgow. The pain was unbelievable and agonising, and could be continued for up to six strokes, when the first one or two had already rendered the child's hands swollen and contused, and the recipient in a paroxysm of pain. It is hard to credit now, but just to see and feel the weight of one of these implements is shocking. And in some schools they were in daily and almost random use as a punishment of first resort. In the hands of sadists (and sadly there were too many of those) it was effectively torture. And new teachers were drawn into the foolish practice, even at a time when after the supposed 'liberation' of the sixties it should have been clear to any rational person that it was an unacceptable anachronism. Here is the story of one silly wee lassie who joined in with some apparent enthusiasm and still feels no shame:

http://blethers.blogspot.com/2009/01/corporate-effort.html

Back then, the worst thing was to let your friends see that you 'couldnae take it', but now we're in our 40s and 50s and older, it's time to stop pretending 'it didnae dae me ony hairm' and show this up for what it was - plain and simple abuse. And it's not too late to name and shame some of the worst perpetrators.

JamesT said...

The "belt" in Scotland was a cruel abuse that was allowed to continue for far too long. A misguided saddler in Fife had been allowed, and even encouraged, to produce straps of such fearsome thickness and density that their effective use was nothing less than child torture. And these were used in the vast majority of Scottish schools including illegally, against the local authority’s wishes, in Glasgow. The pain was unbelievable and agonising, and could be continued for up to six strokes, when the first one or two had already rendered the child's hands swollen and contused, and the recipient in a paroxysm of pain. It is hard to credit now, but just to see and feel the weight of one of these implements is shocking. And in some schools they were in daily and almost random use as a punishment of first resort. In the hands of sadists (and sadly there were too many of those) it was effectively torture. And new teachers were drawn into the foolish practice, even at a time when after the supposed 'liberation' of the sixties it should have been clear to any rational person that it was an unacceptable anachronism. Here is the story of one silly wee lassie who joined in with some apparent enthusiasm and still feels no shame:

http://blethers.blogspot.com/2009/01/corporate-effort.html

Back then, the worst thing was to let your friends see that you 'couldnae take it', but now we're in our 40s and 50s and older, it's time to stop pretending 'it didnae dae me ony hairm' and show this up for what it was - plain and simple abuse. And it's not too late to name and shame some of the worst perpetrators.