Paddle me This, Paddle me That
In my last blog, I expressed my disdain regarding an elder gent telling me priests would swat the boys good with a paddle if they acted up in his Catholic school. I lived with my father in Long Island during my formative years. I was a boisterous teen with a troubled life then. We didn’t know I was on the autism spectrum. I remember one time I had a meltdown, and Dad got angry. He shouted at me, “If I ever misbehaved like that, my mother would throw me out the window!” Apparently, I was supposed to be lucky to be alive during the end of the 20th rather than fifty years prior. Dad had a short fuse. It didn’t take much to set him off. I wasn’t alive when he was a teenager, but I surmise his parents weren’t very stable. Spanking and paddling was the norm then. There was no ADHD, Asperger’s, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, or such back in the day. One thing I’ve deduced about Western culture is nothing exists until it’s discovered and given a name or it can’t be kept a secret anymore.
A Veteran’s Tale
The problems we face in modern society didn’t go away by being ignored in the past. That reminds me of my last visit to the VA hospital. Every time I go there, I see at least two old men in wheelchairs or using walkers. It makes me worry about mobility impairments as I get older now that I’m staring down 40. My mother elaborated most people from that generation never visited the doctor until they were half dead. Her father had a heart attack in 1990. Grandpa hadn’t had a physical before then since he went into the Army during World War II. It’s hard not roll my eyes when I hear old folks act dismissively about safety precautions and child psychology. Once upon a time, I was an advocate of corporal punishment. I shared the same opinion as them because I was bullied in school, and I too served in the military. I was convinced bullying would go away if they conducted paddling in front of the whole school Singapore-style. Boy was I naive! You’re about to ascertain why I strongly oppose corporal punishment.
Thai me Up, Thai me Down
The reason this bothers me is because I’m guilty of child abuse myself. My first semester in Thailand, I did something egregious I regret to this day. I was inexperienced at my job because I’d never been in charge of children. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was undertrained. The geniuses who ran the agency crammed information into our heads within a three-day period and dispatched us to our schools. All I knew before then was teaching adults. The rocket scientists at the school where I taught were never around when I needed them, and I was left on an island. I was always the last person to know anything because I was a foreign teacher. In a nutshell, it was baptism by fire. I had a hard time controlling my temper because I’d get impatient like my father would. I had the same standards he, my stepmom, and others from his generation that knew jack about autism in that I expected children to act like adults. I hated teaching grades 7 through 9 because the classes were so unruly.
On Top of the Ball
That wasn’t where I made my mistake. I did something heinous in my 6th grade class. All the boys sat on one side while the girls sat on the other. I had no idea that was a recipe for disaster. There was one boy, the rowdiest of the bunch. He went by Ball. I think he might have had ADHD in hindsight. Every day, Ball was bouncing off the walls. One day towards the end of the semester, I lost it. It was the last class of the day, and the kids were getting squirrelly while I was trying to conduct a game. Neither the headmistress nor the principal were around, so I took matters into my own hands. I told the kids to put their heads down on their desks, and Ball wouldn’t oblige. I went to him and held Ball’s head down while the others complied. He kept trying to bob his head up, but I wouldn’t budge. Ball then ran out of the class and never came back. In Thai culture, you’re not supposed to touch someone’s head because that’s the holiest part of one’s body.
An Irrational Misfortune
The next week something worse unfolded. Once again it was the last class of the day. Ball wouldn’t settle down and stop talking. Finally, I’d had it after all his antics. This had been happening all semester long, and I snapped. The boy had to defecate badly, and I made Ball sit in the corner and hold it in. Other boys tried telling me something on Google Translate on my smartphone. What one boy said in broken English translated to, “Ball shit pain!” I was so mad; I didn’t care how uncomfortable he was. So I said back on my app, “The anus is a voluntary muscle. Now since your classmate obviously can’t his fucking mouth shut, he’ll have to keep his butthole shut.” Ball thought everything was a joke up to that point. Then I turned to him and said on the app, “It’s not so fucking funny now, is it, you little shit?!” Eventually, I let him go as the class ended. At the time, I got sick pleasure, but I feel icky about it now. I did something heinous that cost me my job because I was underprepared and frustrated. I was let go by the agency and got what I deserved. There’s not a day or night that passes where I don’t regret what I did.
Bad Teacher, Bad Parents
Not long after, I landed a gig at an all-girls school in Bangkok. There I blossomed because I was surrounded by other Western teachers who shared ideas and techniques. I also had a great mentor who groomed me into a better teacher. None of these luxuries I had in Northeast Thailand, and I wasn’t inclined to make the same mistakes. Two years ago, I induced other questionable methods. When boys were misbehaving and horseplaying, I would have them come up to the front and do push-ups or yoga poses. This was the only way I knew to curtail bad behavior because that’s how I was dealt with in military school and boot camp. I hated both institutions with a passion and was traumatized, but I knew nothing else until I became more seasoned. I remember being assaulted by a teacher on my 14th birthday while living with Dad. The man should have been sacked. I was too young to understand, but I surmise he was placed on administrative leave because we had a substitute for two months. My father did nothing except blame me implying I instigated it. He then said, “I think teachers have no rights and that sometimes they should spank your little bottom in front of the class.” My mother, a then paralegal, would’ve nailed the guy’s balls to the wall, but that didn’t happen.
Out with the Old, In with the New
Classroom management is the hardest part of the job. There’s no question about that. Finally, I adopted some techniques one of my South African colleagues suggested. No longer did I have the boys do yoga poses and push-ups or sitting together. I had the kids sit boy-girl-boy-girl in each row and switch seats periodically. I’d also use peer pressure and reverse psychology. Each group in which they sat would have points deducted when the kids spoke out of turn or got goofy. I’d have them compete with one another, and the two groups that garnered the most points at the end of each class received awards. It didn’t take long to realize a reward system is more effective than discipline. This is one reason I have an estranged relationship with my father and few good things to say about the military. Nothing I did or said was ever good enough to measure up to their standards. No matter how hard I tried, there was nothing in it for me. I didn’t want my students to remember me the way I do my dad or the Coast Guard, so I put my ego aside and changed my ways.
Big Man on Campus
The worst thing that happened in Vietnam wasn’t as bad. I learned how to govern the class before things got out of hand. There was a 16 or 17-year-old blowhard with raging hormones trying to show off in front of his pals. He kept disrupting my class, and I wouldn’t tolerate it. One reason I learned kids act up is because their English level is low. Another is because it’s an elective class not an academic. It didn’t take long for me to deduce he was a troublemaker, so I confronted him the second week. We had a reading assignment. I had him stand up and said, “Guess who gets to read for the whole class, hotshot!” He didn’t see that coming. The boy kept slipping up and butchering the material. I corrected him in the interim. Other students wanted to volunteer, but I said, “No-no-no-no-no! Your classmate here wants to impress all his buddies. He wants to entertain us. Keep going there, hotrod!” He made an ass of himself after I punctured his ego and brought him down to earth. The boy never misbehaved again. Nobody was harmed then. With my new techniques, I had each class wrapped around my finger by the end of each term.
Violence Begets Violence
And so the lesson endeth here. Reverse psychology and reward systems on their worst day are more conducive than corporal punishment. During that time frame, I read spanking and paddling may work in the short run but cause long-lasting psychological effects like PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Unbeknownst to my younger self, my father, and many folks from his generation, violence begets violence. The former is how they join gangs and grow up to be serial killers and criminal sociopaths. One reason I quit teaching in classrooms is because I didn’t like the way TA’s would hit the students when they got rowdy. Basically, you’re showing the kids you have no self-control, and I didn’t want that on my conscience. It takes a real man to admit he was wrong, and I’m ashamed of my actions in Thailand to this day. The aforementioned piece is why I think people should be trained properly towards parenting, mentoring, and teaching children.