It was always an uneasy, nervous moment when someone was getting ‘disciplined’ at school. There the guy would be standing, looking crookedly over his shoulder. Sometimes he would be standing on his toes, his behind shaking uncontrollably. Right behind him would be the teacher, looking menacing with his stick. There could be a long wait before the stick came flying down. When it did, it was loud. Pooow! Then the show followed immediately. The guy would jump up, his hands rubbing his behind profusely. He was making all sorts of faces, and awkward body postures. The teacher respected this act, and allowed the guy to recollect himself. Eventually, the guy did recollect himself and went back for another. Pooow! Pooow!
We call it discipline. All the primary schools and high schools I knew did it. Most teachers did it. Parents usually supported it. In fact, sometimes they would connive with teachers. “Vele umkatse mbijana,” they would say (Definitely give him a hiding). Only in a few cases did parents take exception to their children getting disciplined in school. Otherwise, the teachers became the sole custodians of the school disciplinary trade. With this much power, each teacher has devised his/her own method.
Methods are not all that differentiate them. Whether they pinch, slap, use a stick or a duster – they all fall into different characters. From my experience, I have found seven variations. From the dreaded Mercenary to the docile Angel, they are all etched in our school memories, and our bodies. Here are their descriptions…
1. The Mercenary
The Mercenary is the deadliest of all. In fact, other disciplinarian teachers will forward you to him. Every student fears him. I remember once when one called me, and I began shaking, my knees almost buckling. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I already anticipated the worst. It didn’t matter that he had called me by last name. “Would you pick up that paper and throw it in the trash?” he said. I was so relieved, but I could barely walk straight. The Mercenary usually doesn’t hit students too often. It’s easy to understand: if you saw him doing it, you’d be thankful that he didn’t do it more frequently.
2. The Cheeky One
No offense intended, but the Cheeky One tends to be a female teacher. She will easily flip the switch and hit you while you’re still smiling. The beating is usually accompanied by an emphatic tirade. Usually, her shouting will get you first, by which time your heart has begun racing. And then follows the sting. Wham! Wham! The Cheeky One tends to hit more often, and her class tends to be a roller coaster of supreme fun and sudden fear.
3. The Noble One
This is the most diplomatic one. He will sit there, explaining why you’re getting it. You may be getting just two strokes, but it may take what seems like hours. The problem is in how calm he is, exhibiting no anger at all. That is the problem, because the sting is the exact opposite. Usually, once the student gets a stroke for the first time, he seems to have this very surprised face, as if to say “Ah ah kanti uyatshaya okweqiniso so!? Wena ukhuluma kamnandi so?” (Wow! So you really can hit despite that gentle voice of yours?). That feeling of surprise then gives way to pain. Angry pain.
4. The Softie
Again this one tends to be a female teacher. She is the funniest because she usually overestimates the sting of her discipline. She is usually friendly with students, but will mete out some discipline regularly. When action calls, she will pretend to be angry for a minute. And then the face of the plastic ruler will come gliding onto your open palm. The only reason you do not laugh is out of respect. The risk with the Softie is that she likes to refer people to the Mercenary. That is no funny matter.
5. The Surprise
The Surprise beats less frequently, but she has a secret weapon: nobody sees it coming. In male teachers, it’s usually a quiet, shy guy who does not talk a lot. In female teachers, it’s usually a small, quiet teacher. Many student teachers also fall in this category. The student getting disciplined usually takes the situation lightly, until the stick lands on the hand, or the calves, or the buttocks. A feeling of betrayal suddenly sweeps through the student. The teacher they had always considered friendly or timid turns out to be well-versed in the art of pain infliction. Unsurprisingly, the Surprise is usually hated by half the school.
6. The Joker
This one is the most annoying of all. This teacher simply loves hitting students, and makes no effort to hide it. He is seldom angry – even the student being disciplined is usually in a good mood. Therefore, to observers, and the participants, the whole situation usually looks light-hearted and not really serious. That is until the student walks away and realizes that it wasn’t a comedic act. It was actually a discipline session. That is not the worst. The worst is that this will happen over and over again, played out in the same manner. After a few years, the student finally realizes that she hates that teacher. And the Joker doesn’t care.
7. The Angel
The Angel never hits anybody. In fact, even though the Angel will threaten to refer a student to the Mercenary, she will not do it. While having the Angel is a relief for many, her classes may get out of hand if they have the worst-behaved students. You can only sit in your chair, wishing she could just snap and let loose a mammoth slap on the misbehaving student’s arrogant face. Unfortunately, that never happens. Once in a while, the Mercenary will walk in on the misbehaving student, and justice will be served.
Many of us will remember these characters. They have different faces and names. They use different weapons. They teach different subjects. We love some, and love to hate some. But these are the men and women who were entrusted with our childhoods by our parents. They gave our parents a hand, and they gave us a hand too. Our parents took the gentler hand, and we took the one carrying a stick.
What were your experiences?
In memory of Mr Munyanyiwa, High School Mathematics Teacher