It was a sad fact, but as a lady teacher in an all-boys' school, one most certainly needed to make one's expectation in the classroom known. Despite some misgivings at the outset, my own experience of dealing with boys led me to the conclusion that a traditional approach is best. Indeed, one always needs to ask oneself why older, more experienced colleagues have held on to this approach for so many years; they were no fools! And I came to the conclusion that I would not betreated as a fool either and quickly adopted a firm, authorative approach towards the boys.
I worked as a teacher in an all boys’ prep school during the 60s and 70s where a great deal of attention was paid towards ensuring good behaviour at all times. The school was divided into two sections; the lower school for the 8 to 11 year olds and the upper school for the 11 to 13 year olds. In the upper school (mainly 12 to 13 year olds) a more formal atmosphere existed whereby we consciously adopted many of the features of the main independent senior school where the boys would shortly be heading for.
As a young teacher just starting out in my career, I was put in charge of the eldest class (mostly 13-year old boys) and that particular year group had been notoriously difficult and had built up a quite formidable reputation for unruliness as they had come up through the school. Within days of becoming their form mistress, they had soon sensed my inexperience and learnt just exactly how to exploit every one of my weak points as only a group of badly behaved young teenage boys know how. By the end of the first week, I wondered if teaching really was the profession for me!
The headmaster had obviously noted the tremendous problems I was facing and had said nothing all week. I think he was waiting for something to happen in me that would bring me to the same kind of conclusion as him about how to cope with ‘my’ class of boys. As I left the school on the Friday he approached me and asked me into his office. He passed onto me a skill that, unfortunately, can no longer be taught to young teachers in today’s schools, but would most certainly put them in excellent stead in regards to maintaining good discipline in their classrooms, especially in so far as boys are concerned.
For twenty minutes or so, we pretended that the leather upholstered arm of his chair was a boy’s left hand and I was given expert guidance on how to swat it with an English prep school rattan cane. I took it home and practised on one of my mother’s armchairs over the entire weekend. At that time in my life, I was a pretty good tennis player and soon taught myself to deliver quite a withering blow to a young lad’s outstretched hand. When I returned to school on the following Monday morning, I was most definitely no longer the same teacher the boys had managed to nearly reduce to tears just a couple of days before.
The first lesson up to the morning break was not good, I let them show me their worst, and they happily obliged me in this. The bell finally rang down the school corridor and the boys lined up at the door, their faces covered with those usual knowing smirks as they waited for me to stand at the door and, as usual, vainly wait for them to be silent. However, this time I didn’t hurry. I opened my desk and then strolled to the head of the nattering, disorderly line without one of them even noticing that I was there.
Finally, I raised my voice. A few boys looked my way, saw the cane in my hand and immediately fell silent, others followed suit and, within seconds, the class stood mortified in total silence. I was in charge and to guarantee that this continued I knew that I had to make sure that the job was very well done. The first boy in the line was called Mayhewwhom I summoned towards me. He took one pace forwards, held out his hand, winced as he closed his eyes and gave out a sharp yelp and thanked his teacher before leaving the classroom (this avoided a swipe to the other hand for lacking manners!!!).
Soon after, fifteen boys were quickly following Mayhew down the school corridor, groaning miserably, and then hurriedly disappearing into the toilets to find the nearest available cold water tap to douse their stinging palms. I later learnt to keep boys in the classroom after a caning to make sure that the stinging sensation stayed longer. But this was my first time. A wonderfully polite, hard working and dutiful class returned for their next lesson after break time!