Why would you want to go into teaching?

Published in the Duluth News Tribune


More often than not, the first thing people have said about my daughter Jen’s career choice has been, ‘I wouldn’t want to be a teacher these days.  Kids are so disrespectful.’  It made me curious, so I did a little research.  I started at a time in history when Corporal punishment in the classroom was the norm.

Mom, known as Miss Anderson, was a 5th Grade teacher at Lester School from 1953-1955.  She was 24 years old and it was her 3rd year of teaching.  One of the biggest differences was her class size, she had 37 kids.  Classrooms today average 25.  The other difference was that she was responsible to teach music, art, physical education, and serve as the playground aid.  There was also no segregation for those children with developmental delays, so she did the best she could with the 12 kids who needed her special attention.

“Wow.  That’s a lot of responsibility,” I said.  “How did you handle the discipline problems back then? Did you hit the kids with a ruler?” I laughed.

“No?!”  Mom answered.  “We weren’t allowed to touch the kids.”

That answer surprised me.  Physical force was the norm until the late 1970’s.  Belts, paddles, and rulers were the more popular tools teachers used on students who misbehaved.

“So, what did you do?”  I asked.

“I had to get creative,” she answered.

Mom went on to tell me about a boy who once sat on the floor in the back of the classroom and started stomping his feet on the 2nd floor hardwood floor.

“So, how did you handle that?”  I asked.

“I told him to take off his shoes.  Once he had them off, I told him to kick hard.”

“What did he do?”

“Oh, he kicked a few more times.  But it hurt too much, so he quit.  Problem solved.”

I had to chuckle.  Mom made discipline sound so simple.  “Did this boy do anything else memorable?”

“Well, there was this belt incident . . . ”

One day, the students in the classroom complained that this boy had taken his belt off and was hitting them with the buckle.   Mom told the boy to set the belt on her desk.  When it was time for recess, Mom followed the students outside.  It was her turn to manage the playground.

The boy came outside, carrying his belt.  He told Mom, that he took his belt back.  What he didn’t realize was that the principal was near-by.  The principal looked at Mom and the boy with a quizzical look.

“Come with me,” she ordered.  She led the two of them back to Mom’s classroom.

Once the door was closed, the principal took the belt and started to spank the boy.

Mom stood watching, stunned.

The principle turned to her and explained, “I’m not hitting him out of anger.  See?  I am hitting him to discipline him.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I agreed with her,” Mom said.  “I really didn’t see any difference.  But she was the boss, so I didn’t question her.”

I remember one of my 5th grade teachers, back in 1972, who used his temper to control our classroom.  That teacher once grabbed my friend Jerome up by the scruff of his neck and dragged him over to the second story window.  When he held Jerome’s head out the opening, and threatened to throw him out, I was petrified that he might do it.

My husband told me that his Illinois principal, during that same time era, would have the students grab their ankles, and then spank them with a paddle that had holes in it.

“Why did it have holes in it?” I asked.

“The holes make the paddle swing faster,” he answered.

“Did you ever get paddled?”

He laughed, “Of course I did!”

In today’s world, there are laws in all but 19 States against this type of discipline. The ruling against Corporal punishment in the schools is not a Federal law.  Many schools in the Southern states, and a spotty few out West, still permit educators to use physical force to control the classroom.

But in my neighboring States of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, I wondered, what does a teacher do to redirect a student’s misbehavior?  Is it even possible without the threat of a Principal’s paddle?

I called on my friend, Vicky Erickson.  She was my son’s 5th grade teacher and her calming and nurturing ways have always impressed me.  I asked her, “How do you handle the discipline in your classroom?”

“My strategy is to kill them with kindness.”

Vicky told me about a boy named Bo.  First off, Bo sat next to her whenever it was work time.  Once during instruction, she let him take a microphone and try to instruct the class.  When Bo was having trouble keeping hands to himself in line in the hallway, he was given the privilege of holding her hand.  “As an 11-year-old, that can be quite humbling!”

I had to ask her, “what advice would you give a new teacher?”

“If you can find a hook or passion, then you can reach them.  Sometimes a little love goes a long way, even if it embarrasses them.  They sometimes just need a hug.”

Mom said in closing, “’Why would you want to go into teaching?’ would be the same as asking someone, ‘why would you want to have kids?’”

And that’s the part that made it all make sense.  Becoming a teacher is more of a calling, it chooses you.  Thank goodness for all those hard-working educators, who instinctively guide with patience, love and support.  I guess that is why my daughter made that career choice, and that is something I hope she is proud of.

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