When I was in elementary school, my teachers were dedicated not only to making certain that the students were well educated, but that we displayed good conduct. We were taught to have respect for others and also to understand what politeness meant and that poor conduct did not pay off.
The code of conduct applied to the classroom, the playground, our homes, and to the community. The teachers were expected to maintain order because it is impossible to teach if the classroom is chaotic. At the beginning of each school day, we had to quietly line up for class in single file and no talking was the rule.
Punishment for violations varied from teacher to teacher. My fourth-grade teacher had few occasions to administer punishment, but when it became necessary, she would make up a list of words related to the negative action and give the list to the offender. The offender would sit in a desk next to the teacher’s desk, and, using a dictionary, would write out the meaning of each word and tell what his/her actions should have been.
Another penalty for poor conduct was having the fourth-grader stand outside of the classroom door for 15 minutes. While standing in the hall, I am certain that the student prayed the principal didn’t appear and direct the student to his office.
One teacher took a drastic step with any student who uttered a disparaging word about a fellow student. The teacher would take the offending student to the principal’s office, and the principal would call the student’s home and request a parent conference. If no one was home, the principal would keep calling until he received a response. In the meantime, the offender would sit in the principal’s office and work on class assignments. This same teacher would put a student in the open closet if he/she talked to another student while the teacher was giving instruction.
It was almost unheard of for a student to utter a swear word in the building, but I once did. I had a part in the eighth-grade play, and I believed that I had my lines down perfectly, but when the moment came for me to speak, my mind went blank, and I said, “Oh, hell.” I could almost hear the shock waves go through the audience, and I knew I was in deep trouble.
That afternoon the principal summoned me to his office. He was planning to suspend me for three days, which was the punishment for cursing, but I was able to convince him that my slip of the tongue was completely involuntary. If I had been suspended, I knew I would not escape punishment at home.
My eighth-grade history teacher walked up and down the aisles in the classroom when she taught a lesson, and this, of course, killed any horseplay, especially since she carried a metal ruler.
Once when a girl was giving a report on the Civil War, Jimmy Adams made a wise crack about the girl’s hair. Without hesitation, and with great speed, our teacher reached Jimmy’s desk and smashed the ruler down on his desk, which caused Jimmy to jump upward from his seat.
Whatever their method, our teachers were no nonsense people, and a student quickly got the message that poor conduct would bring swift reprisal.