When I was a kid, I came first in the Regional Spelling Bee competitions that were held in our school. Competition was tough, as spelling was one of our most important subjects, and since it was practiced each week, thanks to our twenty word spelling list that we were tested on each Friday. I always got at least a 90% in those tests.
I earned a Spirograph toy for my hard work.
I still remember Sister Hilda, and her yard stick. As she called out the words, she walked along the aisles of the classroom, glancing at our work as she passed. When she noticed an incorrectly spelled word, she would crack us across the neck with the ruler. Seeing how I had a relatively long neck, I certainly didn’t welcome the hardwood ruler’s hard whack, so I guess I just learned to spell. Something like that.
Growing up in Catholic school in the seventies was no easy chore, as teachers and especially principals had the right to strike a kid if they deserved it. One of my teachers picked off the tip of my skull with a caulk eraser once. I know, that explains a lot. Let me tell you something, those nuns had little time for smart ass kids, and they were cross!
I had this one teacher, Sister Kotell, who was the terror of the school. We used to call her Sister Kotex (after the feminine pad) behind her back. Guess who mistakenly called her Sister Kotex to her face by accident one faithful morning in December, while she scolded me for wearing my winter boots in the school. Ever hear of the ‘Strap’?
The Strap was a fourteen inch piece of leather, that was about a quarter of an inch thick. The old girl loved to strap
innocent little kids who made little mistakes like calling her after a feminine pad. I got fifteen straps on each hand, and by then my hands were too sore to hold my pencil. This was just prior to our weekly spelling test. I didn’t get a good grade on that one, but I did dispute it with the school principal…and won!
I had dropped in to the office earlier to talk to him, but he wasn’t around, so the secretary agreed to call me down when he got in. I was sitting in class, waiting for Sister Kotex to come in for math class when the announcement came on the static-filled P.A. System, the one donated by the Army Base.
“Bzzt…Will Teddy W Please Bzzt Come to the Bzzt Principal’s office immediately”
Everyone in the class ‘whooed’ me as I got up, red faced, and left the room. I remember the old crab (Sister Kotex) telling me that I was in deep trouble.
When I reached the principal’s office, I was directed to walk right into his office. There he was, the school principal, sitting like a king at his throne, waiting to dish punishment upon me for questioning a teacher. Not just a teacher, but a nun at that. Nuns were the top of the heap back then. We used to joke that they were called ‘nuns’ because they didn’t get none. We didn’t say that one out loud though, not in grade four anyway.
The principal introduced himself and shook my hand. He was smoking a cigar at the time (they were allowed to do that back then) and he doubted it in his ashtray.
“So, you are questioning Sister Kotex…I mean Kotell’s behavior?” he said, chuckling as he said it.
Did he just call her Sister Kotex? I was appalled.
“First thing you should know, you guys didn’t make that name up. She was called Sister Kotex when I went to school here, so don’t think you guys said anything she never heard.” he said.
“You have to know that this was wrong” he added.
“But..but…I am not questioning that, I don’t think it was fair to strap me and then give me a spelling test. I failed the test, couldn’t hold my pencil, hands were too sore!” I said.
“I had a 99 average, now that is finished. I don’t get 90’s in anything cept spelling, I don’t think it was fair!” I pleaded.
He was amazed that I didn’t care about the straps, or the fact that I got caught, and the only thing I wanted was a chance to redo the test once I regained feeling in my fingers.
“You can re-write the test on Monday, here in my office. I will talk with Sister Kotex..I mean Sister Kotell on Friday and work things out” he said.
Nowadays things sure have changed. First, spelling is all but a lost art, as our schools have removed spelling from school curriculum. Apparently spelling is no longer important! I hate to think of our future authors, nobody will understand their books. It is hard enough getting published now, imagine in a future where authors spell things the way they sound!
The strap is gone as well. I know it was cruel punishment, but nowadays schools have no way to discipline students.
Most of all, the worst thing that changed is the fact that a student can no longer fail a test or a grade. Even if a student is caught cheating, he is given endless opportunities to redo the test. What a future we live in. Just saying