There are many tools educators have at their disposal to effectively educate, and in the days when I attended school one of them was a paddle.
I remember vividly the afternoon in junior high when one of my teachers strode into the room, well after it was time for him to be there, and caught two friends and me in the middle of a light-hearted conversation. He started barking orders almost before we knew he had entered the room, and, noticing we were having a little fun, he told us to shut up.
I did. They didn’t.
Then the teacher interrupted my buddies’ conversation to inform them that during the last two minutes of the class, both of them were two meet him in the hallway for a couple swats.
Because both buddies were seated where I could clearly see them, the next 40 minutes or so were some of the more entertaining of my school years. One of the buddies seemed to take the order in stride, but the other one did not. About every two minutes he would glance toward the clock on the wall, with a distressed expression on his face.
Every time he took a glance, it was hard not to laugh out loud. But I had no desire to join them in the hallway, so I laughed to myself pretty much the rest of the period, enjoying every second.
For the record, the teacher did not forget his promise, and the last two minutes of the class my buddies walked slowly toward the hall and took their swats.
This all came to mind the other day when I received an email from another former teacher telling me he had just learned of John Burton’s passing, and what a magnificent man and positive influence on his and other teachers’ lives Mr. Burton had been.
Last week I wrote a column about Mr. Burton and how, long before he was my principal, he taught me how to properly shoot a left-handed layup. I also wrote that while Mr. Burton had an easy way about him, he could be firm when that was the necessary educational method.
I found that out near the end of my senior year.
Back in the 1970s, we were allowed to leave the school campus for lunch. One particularly fine spring day, several buddies and I decided it was too nice to return to school after lunch and opted to take a joy ride. We headed for the countryside, certain no one would see us, cruising unfamiliar roads to the point that we got lost.
I was driving my Chevy Vega down some back road when I noticed one of those big yellow and black bumblebees humming around my legs. My friends told me to ignore it, but it didn’t seem to be ignoring me, so I pulled over to let it fly out the door. When we stopped, a deputy sheriff who somehow happened to be in the area noticed us, and pulled us over.
He asked us what we were doing, and we told him we were going to look for prom tuxedos in Wilmington.
“Well,” he said, “do you know you’re about five miles out of Greenfield?”
After a friendly lecture, he sent us on our way and told us that if there were any issues, someone at the school would let us know.
He was so pleasant, and didn’t order us back to school, that I thought for sure we were off the hook.
I had track practice that afternoon, so after I dropped everyone off around the time school was supposed to let out, I slipped back into the school, changed into my track clothes, and headed toward the track. But before I reached the track, one of my teammates told me that coach Jim “Tate” Taylor wanted to see me. I thought that maybe he wanted to explain my workout for the day, but when he looked at me sternly and told me that Mr. Burton wanted to see me in his office right away, my knees went weak.
After some opening pleasantries, Mr. Burton looked at me and said, “Jeff, you’ve been doing pretty good in track this year, haven’t you? It sure would be a shame if you didn’t get to run in that league meet this Saturday, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes,” I mumbled.
“Well,” Mr. Burton said, “I know five boys who were at school this morning and were not at school this afternoon, and one of them was you. If you give me the names of those other four boys, I’ll let you run in that track meet Saturday. Otherwise, I will not.”
“Darn it,” I thought, “you already know the other four names. Why should I have to tell you?”
So, as Mr. Burton waited patiently, I rapidly weighed my options. I didn’t like any of them, but since sports were more than a little important to me in those days, and I knew Mr. Burton knew who I had been with, I ratted.
Mr. Burton hinted that some type of disciplinary action would likely be coming the next morning. So at the end of the morning announcements over the schoolwide intercom system the next day, myself and four of my buddies were summoned to Mr. Burton’s office.
The end result was that we each received two swats – one from Mr. Burton and one from George Williams – at least in my case. (Side note — since I had pretty much been forewarned, I wore like five pairs of underwear to school that day and barely felt the swats. My friends didn’t have that advantage, because I was too chicken to warn them).
Those were the only swats I received in all my school years. And while they did not hurt physically, they left their mark on me. That’s partly because my friends were none too friendly for a while. But it is mostly because Mr. Burton made me think deeply – about a lot of things. And I am certain that was the intended lesson all along.
Yes, there are lots of ways educators can educate. Mr. Burton was a master of them all.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.