By John ‘Butch’ Dale
In 1979 I was teaching at Darlington Middle School. My degree was in social studies, health and PE; however, Eual Mcauley, the North superintendent, asked me if I would teach shop class that year, as he could not find a certified industrial arts teacher. I was happy to help out, so I taught junior high shop and a couple of social studies classes.
In my fifth grade history class was a boy who was very mischievous and often misbehaved in his other classes. He was really a goodhearted kid, but he had a wild streak in him and he was not fond of school. He would also do just about anything on a dare if someone paid him a quarter, such as drinking from a mud puddle, biting a worm in two, swallowing a bug, “mooning” a classmate — well, you get the picture. He also liked to tease classmates, especially the girls.
One afternoon before class had started, a girl came up to me and informed me that this boy had been poking her with his pencil. I took him aside and in no uncertain terms told him the pencil poking was going to stop.
But five minutes after the class had begun, the same girl yelled out, raised her hand and started crying. The mischievous boy had poked her arm with his pencil, and the lead had broken off into her skin. It was nothing too serious, but I sent the girl to the school nurse to have it looked at. I grabbed the wooden paddle hanging on the wall behind my desk and ordered the miscreant out into the hallway. The whole class became silent as they knew what was going to happen next.
Now, back in those days corporal punishment was pretty much standard operating procedure, especially for male teachers. I am not saying it was right or wrong, but for the most part it was effective in stopping certain unwanted behavior. I used several other forms of discipline first, but for a misbehavior that was very serious, I did use the paddle on occasion if I thought it would be effective. It all depended on the individual student. I never paddled a girl. I just could never bring myself to do it. Also, at that time, the school policy required a witness (another teacher) to observe the paddling.
As I faced the student out in the hallway, with paddle in hand, I knew that a “whack” would not change his behavior. He as a tough kid. I then decided on a new course of action. I whispered to him that I was not going to paddle him. He was going to stay after school each day for the remainder of the semester and sweep out the shop room. I also told him I was going to hit the wall with my paddle. He was instructed to scream loudly after I struck the wall, go back insider the classroom, act like he was hurting and put on a good act for the others. He smiled and agreed to go through with this plan.
I hit the concrete block wall so hard it sounded like a bolt of lightning had struck. The boy let out a blood-curdling scream. All five of the school lady cooks rushed from the cafeteria just down the hallway when they heard the commotion. They thought a transformer had blown! I waved to them that everything was OK.
The “student actor” trudged back into the classroom while rubbing his behind and sobbing unmercifully. He even had tears flowing. He could have won an Academy Award!
The class believed it all. They sat motionless the remainder of the class period. In fact, I could hardly get anyone to even raise their hand when I asked a question! When the bells sounded, I kept the boy behind and told him to be in the shop room after school and not tell anyone our secret. He happily agreed. Each afternoon, he stayed after school for 25-30 minutes and swept and dusted.
This went on for about a month until one day the boy came to me. “Mr. Dale, I have a favor to ask.”
“Well, what do you want?” I was intrigued by his demeanor.
“Well, Mr. Dale, I would like for you to paddle me. I don’t want to clean the shop room every afternoon.”
I realized he was a lot like I was when I was that age. Paddling was a short period of pain … and then you had the freedom to think of other ways to get into trouble. My father could vouch for that.
But I persisted, “No, a deal is a deal. No whack. Just sweep — or I’ll think of something worse.”
He sauntered off to the shop room, broom in hand, and accepted his fate. He never poked anyone with a pencil again.
John “Butch” Dale retired as a teacher after 15 years and then became a deputy sheriff for 12 years. He was elected Montgomery County Sheriff in 1994 and served for three years until his father-in-law died and he took over the farm. He has also been the Darlington Library Director since 1990, where he has served for the past 33 years. Dale is a well-known artist and author of local history.