The English Visitor
Visiting an American school, an English headmistress witnesses a different style of discipline.
By Kenny Walters
As I looked up at the clock on the wall of my office, I saw the time was approaching three o’clock, and that was significant. I knew I had an appointment at that time.
I have quite a large office. My desk is formed from a traditional desk and an office table of similar size that I placed in an L-shape arrangement. It means I can have my computer to my left on the table and sit at my desk without having to look around a monitor screen if I am interviewing someone. I then have four good comfortable armchairs arranged around a coffee table over near the window where I can speak with visitors a little less formally and in greater comfort than if we were at my desk.
That was where Ms Anne Hawthorpe and I were sitting and drinking coffee. Ms Hawthorpe was headmistress of an all-girls private school in England and she was spending three days with us, a similar all-girls private school in the lovely countryside of Alabama, to see how we did things and what differences there were between the two schools.
To say I was a little apprehensive about how the next twenty minutes or so would go would be fair comment, I guess. Sarah Smithson was my three o’clock appointment, and she was attending my office on a disciplinary matter. Should I ask Ms Hawthorpe if she wanted to stay and observe? I’d have to ask Sarah Smithson if it was okay; it was only right and proper she be given the opportunity to object.
“You have a three o’clock appointment, don’t you John? Do you want me to wait outside with Mrs Hobtree?”
Mrs Hobtree is our senior school secretary.
“Well, Anne, I am seeing a student on a disciplinary matter. I’d be happy to have you observe, but that’s if the student is okay with that, of course.”
“Of course, but I would like to see how you handle discipline, John, if you don’t mind.”
“No, I’m fine with that.”
Just then, Mrs Hobtree knocked on my door and poked her head inside.
“Sarah Smithson is here, Mr Miller.”
“Send her right on in, Mrs Hobtree, if you’d be so kind.”
As the secretary held the door open, a nervous looking Sarah Smithson entered my office.
“Come in, Sarah. Come over and take a seat.” I waved a hand at an empty armchair opposite Ms Hawthorpe and myself.
“Thank you, sir,” Sarah almost stammered, probably surprised she was being offered the comfort of an armchair, against her expectation of being told to stand in front of my desk.
“Sarah, this is Ms Hawthorpe. She’s the headmistress of a school pretty similar to ours over in England, and she’s come to see how we do things, what the differences are, and so on. Would you object if she sat in on our meeting here?”
“Er, no, sir. I guess not.”
“That’s very kind of you, Sarah,” Ms Hawthorpe smiled warmly.
“Now, Sarah, you know why you’re here. The altercation in the dining hall.”
“Yes, sir.” Sarah looked down at the floor. She was fairly short and maybe a little above ideal weight as far as her structure was concerned, with light brown, kind of mousey-coloured hair that she had tied back in two bunches. She had a small, rounded face, and wore glasses for reading and close-up work. She was an eleventh grade student, seventeen years old.
“Now, you have to have one of the best records of any girl in this school, Sarah. So, how come you got into an altercation, some say a fight?”
“I lost my temper, sir.”
“I’m sure there was a little more to it than that, Sarah.”
She thought for a moment.
“Well sir, some girls were being a bit rowdy, and I was just trying to eat my lunch in peace. Then they started throwing food around and some of it seemed to be aimed at me. I asked them to stop doing that, but it just made things worse. Then a cardboard beaker of apple sauce hit me on the head and dropped to the floor, so I scooped up some of the apple sauce and threw it back. Unfortunately, that’s the moment Miss McLaren walked through the door.”
“And the apple sauce you threw hit Miss McLaren and messed up her shirt?” I queried, more to put Ms Hawthorpe in the full picture.
“I guess there’s always a risk things could go wrong when you start throwing things around, Sarah.”
“A lesson to be learned, Sarah?”
“Yes, sir.” She answered with feeling. I’m sure she was one student that never ever expected to be in the Principal’s office on a disciplinary matter.
“At least Miss McLaren’s shirt cleaned up okay with a damp cloth, so no lasting damage done there.”
Sarah nodded an acknowledgement. Did I spot a slight sign of relief in her facial expression?
“I am truly sorry I hit Miss McLaren, sir.”
“I’m sure you are, Sarah. Mind you, an apology direct from you to her might be a good idea, don’t you think?”
“Yes, sir, absolutely. I’ll do that this afternoon.”
My turn to nod my head and show I’d heard and taken in what she’d said.
There was a lull in the conversation at that point.
“Is there anything you’d like to say or ask, Ms Hawthorpe?” I asked more to fill the silence than anything else.
“Um, not really, Mr Miller. It just shows how these things can quickly go wrong, doesn’t it, Sarah?” My visiting headmistress offered the student a sympathetic smile.
“Yes, ma’am,” Sarah answered, biting her lip. She rubbed her hands down her jean-clad upper thighs, clearly wanting to get out of my office sooner rather than later.
I smiled gently too.
“Now, Sarah, you know the school policy on violent acts, and throwing stuff and hitting anyone, let alone a member of staff, has to be classified as a violent act.”
“Yes, sir.” She sounded suddenly downhearted. I guess she realised this interview wasn’t about to end soon.
“Is there anything you wish to say with regard to the offence? Is there anything you can say in mitigation? Anything you want to say in your own defence? Or, do I pretty much have an accurate picture?”
She sighed. “I guess you have the full picture, sir.”
“Okay. Now, we need to consider your punishment, Sarah. You do realise you are going to be punished, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir.” She bit her lip again.
“Now, normally you’d be looking at five swats with the paddle, Sarah. But, you’ve never been in any kind of trouble before, have you?”
“So, I think it would be reasonable to reduce your punishment to just three swats, Sarah.”
“Sir?” She murmured.
I don’t think that news made her that much happier, to be honest.
“I guess you were expecting to find yourself bending over my desk before you got here, weren’t you?”
She grimaced. “Yes, sir, I guess so.”
“Now, you have the option to speak with a parent before the punishment is administered. Do you wish to avail yourself of that option, Sarah?”
She shook her head vigorously. I guessed she’d very much prefer her mother to remain in complete ignorance. Most students did.
“You don’t wish to have your mother here as a witness?”
Another shake of the head.
“You also have the right to ask a fellow student to witness on your behalf. Is there anyone you’d like to ask?”
“No, sir.” She answered after a moment’s thought.
“Okay. Now, we need to have a female staff member witness, since I will be applying your punishment, Sarah. We have Ms Smithson here already. Could we use her, if she agrees? Or, I could call in Mrs Hobtree.”
I looked towards Ms Hawthorpe. While she was already looking straight back at me, it was hard to gauge what she was thinking.
Sarah shrugged. “Urr, I don’t know, sir. If Ms Hathaway is already here, we could use her, I guess.” She looked at the English visitor, and I thought Sarah was kind of hoping she would accept.
“Are you okay with this, Anne?” I asked.
“Sure, why not?”
Did I detect a hint of tension in Ms Hawthorpe’s voice? Perhaps she was just surprised to be asked.
“Okay, if you’d like to come over to the desk with me, Sarah?”
I got to my feet, but Sarah delayed. I walked across to a cupboard behind my desk, expecting Sarah to follow in her own time. I’m sure she knew why I was delving into the contents of the cupboard and, when I turned with the paddle in my hand, I saw her stand up and slowly come towards me, with Anne Hawthorpe putting a reassuring hand on Sarah’s shoulder.
My paddle is made of maple wood and is quite pale in colour. The blade measures perhaps a couple of feet by three inches, and the handle is maybe eight inches long and bound in blue cycling tape to give a good grip.
“Can you just check you have nothing in your back pockets, please Sarah?”
Sarah did as I asked, Ms Hawthorpe’s hand still on her shoulder.
“No, nothing, sir.”
“Okay, then bend over the desk, Sarah. Get your forearms flat on the desk and stick your butt out.”
As Sarah inched her way forward, I saw Ms Hawthorpe’s hand drop from Sarah’s shoulder, run down her back, and slip off with a brief touch on Sarah’s bottom. She remained quite close, though, as the student bent over the desk.
As I mentioned earlier, Sarah had a robust figure and her bottom caused her blue jeans to stretch very tight; it would be a good target. As I moved to position myself to apply the spanking, Ms Hawthorpe rather reluctantly moved away to one side where she could witness, yet give me room to swing the paddle. She still stood closer than I would have liked.
I couldn’t see much reason to delay, so I tapped the paddle a couple of times on Sarah’s backside, just to let her know something really painful was about to come her way, swung it back and cracked the paddle down hard.
Sarah gasped noisily, jerked her whole body, but quickly regained her position to await the next stroke.
I placed the paddle against the seat of her jeans, tapped once, and slammed the paddle down hard for a second time. Sarah gave a short, sharp, shrill cry and then wriggled her backside as though that might mitigate the pain I’m sure she felt. After maybe thirty seconds, she settled back into position which I took as a signal she was ready for the final spank.
I patted her behind with the paddle just once, then slammed the final stroke down hard. The sound seemed to reverberate around the room as the paddle met with Sarah’s jean-clad bottom. I saw her jerk forward a mite, but otherwise she stayed pretty still.
“Okay, that’s it, Sarah.”
I turned away and went to replace the paddle in the cupboard. As I returned to sit at my desk, I saw Ms Hawthorpe had her arm around Sarah, who now had a couple of tears trickling down her face. I opened a drawer and placed a box of tissues for Sarah to help herself. It was actually Ms Hawthorpe who pulled out a small handful and gave them to the girl.
I recorded the punishment on my computer and signed the form for Sarah to hand to her next teacher which would excuse her absence.
“Take your time, Sarah,” I said. “When you’re ready, you’re free to return to classes. If you want to take a few minutes to get yourself together then that will be fine.”
“Thank you, sir,” she sniffed.
“I’m sure you realise I can’t make exceptions when it comes to dealing with breaches of school rules, Sarah, especially something like this.”
“No, sir; I understand. I know it had to be done. Thank you, sir.”
“I imagine that was quite painful, Sarah.” Ms Hawthorpe asked.
“It certainly was when the paddle hit my butt, ma’am!” Sarah smiled weakly.
“Ready to go, Sarah?” I asked.
She deposited some used tissues into the waste basket and then slowly walked out of the office.
Ms Hawthorpe watched her go out the door and then turned to me. “Wow! That was quite something,” she said with some feeling.
“I guess you don’t do that sort of thing, back in England?”
“No, it wouldn’t be allowed. Was it really necessary to hit that hard?”
“Well, I’d say that was three moderate strokes. She’ll know she’s been spanked when she sits down in class, probably have a few twinges during the evening, maybe a couple of lingering bruises tomorrow, but she’ll be fine.”
“Oh, yes. As I told her, it wouldn’t be fair to treat her differently to other students in the same position. I already let her off two spanks for her good conduct up to now, as I would for any other student. But I will have a quiet word with her tomorrow, or maybe the day after, just to check she’s okay.”
“So you spank them and then worry about them?”
“Of course. We like the school to be regarding as a caring and nurturing environment.”
“I see,” Ms Hawthorpe said thoughtfully, seemingly finding it a difficult concept to comprehend. “And you find this form of discipline works for you?”
“We do. You have to remember, we speak to our students and ask their opinions about a lot of things, including our discipline code. Yes, there are a few things, like violent conduct in this case, where paddling is the only option. But, in lesser things where corporal punishment is optional, we find most students choose to take the paddle anyway. It gets it over quick.”
“I just find it odd that smacking a student’s bottom is seen as a caring act.”
“We find it odd that you don’t care enough about your students to spank them when they step out of line.”
© Kenny Walters 2019
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Posted on Thursday, September 12th, 2019 at 1:36 pm in School & College Stories | RSS feed Comments and pings are currently closed.
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