Leather Straps and Flying Chalk, School Memories from the 1950s

The thought of holding out your hand to be whacked by a teacher held piece of leather provided a powerful reason to behave at school in the 1950s. In New Zealand, where I live, getting the strap was an acceptable form of punishment during my school days. This violent practice has been illegal in New Zealand since 1990, though I do think students had more respect for their teachers when they understood what the physical consequences of misbehaviour would be.

I loved school and I loved my teachers, but nobody is perfect. As hard as I tried to avoid this fearful form of punishment, I managed to find myself in trouble from time to time.  Whenever the teacher called one of us to the front of the room we all sank further down in our seats, hoping we too wouldn’t become his next victim.

Playground misbehaviour and classroom disobedience rated high on the list of offences for which the teacher produced the strap. The victims held out their hands, some trembling with fear. Temptation to pull your hand away as the strap came down resulted in extra whacks.

I usually received the strap for more minor offences, such as talking too much and spelling mistakes. That’s right, for getting my spelling words wrong in the weekly test. I was a good speller, but if I made  careless spelling mistake I received the same punishment as the others.  I didn’t think this fair at all. Tears filled my eyes, even before I felt the impact of the piece of leather.

Another form of punishment that wouldn’t be tolerated in classrooms today involved a piece of flying chalk. If the teacher held a piece of chalk when someone started talking, look out. The chalk flew through the air with such accuracy it landed on the desk beside you. I think we all in admired his skill of landing the chalk just where he wanted it.

A more preferred punishment involved writing lines while others were outside playing, especially during the colder winter months. My teacher liked variety in his choice of punishment though, so it wasn’t worth misbehaving, hoping to be given lines to write, when he could quite easily choose to strap you instead.

My recently published school memoir, ‘West End the Best End – School Memories from the 1950s’ includes discipline and punishment as some of the anecdotal stories of my memories of my school life. Times have changed and former practices are no longer acceptable. At the time, however, none of us questioned the right of our teacher to inflict physical punishment on us. Getting strapped was a part of school life in 1950s New Zealand.

What memories do you have of school punishment in other parts of the world?