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When Teachers Attacked

Physical Punishments were Freely Applied

By Joe YoungPublished 5 months ago 6 min read
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A class from the past (Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash)

I once watched the 1970 film Kes with my (then) girlfriend, who was three decades my junior. She was aghast at how much bullying went on in the film, not between pupils, but from staff. I considered it a fairly accurate representation of school life in the 1970s.

In the film, cuffs across the head are routinely dished out to pupils by teachers. Shouting and demeaning are also prevalent throughout, and, of course, the cane is wielded frequently.

But the daddy of them all, the bully-in-chief, if you will, is the sports teacher Mr Sugden, brilliantly portrayed by Brian Glover. Sugden leads the film’s central character, Billy Casper, and his classmates onto the school playing field for a game of football.

Win the Game at Any Cost

Kitted out in a pristine Manchester United strip, Sugden plays a dual role during the game; centre-forward for his team, and referee. On this teacher’s list of priorities, the development of his charges’ footballing skills, and the advancement of their athleticism lie some way behind his main objective, which is to win the game at any cost.

We get an early insight into Sugden’s desire for victory before a ball has been kicked, when he decides, which goal his team will attack. “We’ll play with the wind, downhill, this way,” he says, immediately putting the opposition at a disadvantage.

With the game under way, Sugden spots two less than athletic pupils playing the school yard game, slaps. The teacher intervenes, and asks one of the boys to show him how the game is played. As the nervous young lad demonstrates, Sugden delivers an almighty swipe across the side of his face.

After Billy lets in a goal, despite an acrobatic dive, Sugden throws the ball at him with such force, it knocks the puny lad into the mud. “What’s that for, Sir?” Billy asks.

“Slack work, lad. Slack work,” the teacher says.

Now, of course, Sugden must do all he can to get his team level. Making one of his familiar barging runs, he performs a blatant dive inside the penalty area. His whistle-blowing alter-ego awards a penalty, which his centre-forward manifestation opts to take.

The goalkeeper easily saves the spot-kick, but Sugden orders a re-take, as he claims that he, the goalkeeper, had moved before the ball was struck. The second attempt is successful, and the teacher celebrates in the manner of someone who had just scored at Wembley Stadium. “And that, boys, is how to take a penalty,” he crows.

After the game, which Sugden’s team lost, the bullying teacher refuses to let Billy leave until he has taken a post-match shower. Having stationed pupils as guards to make sure Billy stays under the water jets, Sugden turns the temperature to cold, as a means of punishing Billy’s slack work.

That such a sore loser could be representative of the character building value of sport in schools, where pupils are moulded into athletic young adults possessed of a keen sense of fair play, beggars belief when viewed from today’s expected standards. But it was all very real back then.

Football vs Rugby

At my school, we played rugby for part of the term, and then football later. As far as the former went, I was almost a non-participant. The objective in rugby is to get the ball over the goal line. For me it was maintaining as much distance between me and the ball at all times. But football was different.

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Perfect playing conditions (Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash)

If there was one thing I enjoyed more than playing football, it was playing football in the snow. And that’s what I did one afternoon on the school playing field. My team won the game, and I scored two goals. The teacher, who had witnessed my aversion to rugby develp into a passion for football, ran alongside me.

“You can do it in football, but not in rugby,” he said. I shrugged, and he added, “You’ve got three seconds to run.” I didn’t know what he had planned, but I started sprinting across the snow-covered field. I heard his footsteps coming up behind me, and then he brought me down with a brutal rugby tackle. We slid along in the snow, and he got up, laughing. He offered his hand to help me to my feet, and I continued on my way back into school.

I’m the Meat in the Sandwich

Another time, I was late for an English lesson one afternoon. I’d been down to the cloakroom to get two hardback books from my bag — one we had just started reading the previous week, and the other one we had just finished, but which I had neglected to hand in.

As I walked along the empty corridor to my class, I began clashing the books together, in the manner of someone playing cymbals in a marching band. They made a terrific echo which, unfortunately for me, came to the attention of a teacher in one of the classrooms I had passed. I never had this teacher for any lessons, but he had a reputation as a terror.

That teacher emerged from a classroom behind me, and barked out my surname. I paused my percussive performance, and went over to him. He took the books from me.

“That’s an interesting noise you’re making,” he said. “Now, let’s see what it sounds like with your head in the middle.” At this, he clashed the books off each side of my head, handed them back to me and sent me, somewhat dazed, on my way.

X Marks the Spot

Another, less comical form of punishment came my way one day, when I failed to hand in my history homework on time. The long-suffering teacher’s patience had snapped, and he decided to punish me in a rather unusual way.

He led me by the arm to the three blackboards that were fixed to the wall. He drew an X on one of them, and then positioned my head so that my nose was touching the X. He walked away, and I was to remain in that position for the entire lesson.

Nose on the blackboard (Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash)

I felt embarrassed and heat from my face created a damp patch on the blackboard. My plight did attract some sympathy though, as I heard tutting and an ahh come from classmates behind me. After only three minutes or so, I walked out of the class and went home.

When I explained to my parents the reason for my departure, they were fully supportive of me. I believe my mother rang the school the following day to question that bizarre method of chastisement, but nothing more was said.

On the whole, though, we just accepted the cuffs along the head and the eye-watering tweaking of hair at the temples as part of the school day. I never once thought of complaining about the teacher who rugby tackled me in the snow. Nor did I call for the teacher who hit me with the books to be disciplined. It was all just part of the school day.

Teachers would not be allowed to get away with such brutality towards pupils today. I’m not going to claim that a good old slap around the head did us no harm, or that a cane across the hands made men of us, or that kids today are too cosseted.

It’s good, though, that teacher brutality has been taken out of the education system; pupils should not go into classes with a feeling of dread at what kind of punishment may be meted out from certain terrors among the teaching staff.

But the old regime did give us the horrid, hilarious, and ultimately wonderful, Mr Sugden, whose bullying ways can be seen on Youtube at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9nDHupVqVw

(Originally published on Medium)

Teenage years
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About the Creator

Joe Young

Blogger and freelance writer from the north-east coast of England

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