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To Hell with Corporal Punishment


Paddle me This, Paddle me That

In my last blog, I expressed my disdain regarding an elder gent telling me priests would swat the boys good with a paddle if they acted up in his Catholic school. I lived with my father in Long Island during my formative years. I was a boisterous teen with a troubled life then. We didn’t know I was on the autism spectrum. I remember one time I had a meltdown, and Dad got angry. He shouted at me, “If I ever misbehaved like that, my mother would throw me out the window!” Apparently, I was supposed to be lucky to be alive during the end of the 20th rather than fifty years prior. Dad had a short fuse. It didn’t take much to set him off. I wasn’t alive when he was a teenager, but I surmise his parents weren’t very stable. Spanking and paddling was the norm then. There was no ADHD, Asperger’s, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, or such back in the day. One thing I’ve deduced about Western culture is nothing exists until it’s discovered and given a name or it can’t be kept a secret anymore.

A Veteran’s Tale

The problems we face in modern society didn’t go away by being ignored in the past. That reminds me of my last visit to the VA hospital. Every time I go there, I see at least two old men in wheelchairs or using walkers. It makes me worry about mobility impairments as I get older now that I’m staring down 40. My mother elaborated most people from that generation never visited the doctor until they were half dead. Her father had a heart attack in 1990. Grandpa hadn’t had a physical before then since he went into the Army during World War II. It’s hard not roll my eyes when I hear old folks act dismissively about safety precautions and child psychology. Once upon a time, I was an advocate of corporal punishment. I shared the same opinion as them because I was bullied in school, and I too served in the military. I was convinced bullying would go away if they conducted paddling in front of the whole school Singapore-style. Boy was I naive! You’re about to ascertain why I strongly oppose corporal punishment.

Thai me Up, Thai me Down

The reason this bothers me is because I’m guilty of child abuse myself. My first semester in Thailand, I did something egregious I regret to this day. I was inexperienced at my job because I’d never been in charge of children. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was undertrained. The geniuses who ran the agency crammed information into our heads within a three-day period and dispatched us to our schools. All I knew before then was teaching adults. The rocket scientists at the school where I taught were never around when I needed them, and I was left on an island. I was always the last person to know anything because I was a foreign teacher. In a nutshell, it was baptism by fire. I had a hard time controlling my temper because I’d get impatient like my father would. I had the same standards he, my stepmom, and others from his generation that knew jack about autism in that I expected children to act like adults. I hated teaching grades 7 through 9 because the classes were so unruly.

On Top of the Ball

That wasn’t where I made my mistake. I did something heinous in my 6th grade class. All the boys sat on one side while the girls sat on the other. I had no idea that was a recipe for disaster. There was one boy, the rowdiest of the bunch. He went by Ball. I think he might have had ADHD in hindsight. Every day, Ball was bouncing off the walls. One day towards the end of the semester, I lost it. It was the last class of the day, and the kids were getting squirrelly while I was trying to conduct a game. Neither the headmistress nor the principal were around, so I took matters into my own hands. I told the kids to put their heads down on their desks, and Ball wouldn’t oblige. I went to him and held Ball’s head down while the others complied. He kept trying to bob his head up, but I wouldn’t budge. Ball then ran out of the class and never came back. In Thai culture, you’re not supposed to touch someone’s head because that’s the holiest part of one’s body.

An Irrational Misfortune

The next week something worse unfolded. Once again it was the last class of the day. Ball wouldn’t settle down and stop talking. Finally, I’d had it after all his antics. This had been happening all semester long, and I snapped. The boy had to defecate badly, and I made Ball sit in the corner and hold it in. Other boys tried telling me something on Google Translate on my smartphone. What one boy said in broken English translated to, “Ball shit pain!” I was so mad; I didn’t care how uncomfortable he was. So I said back on my app, “The anus is a voluntary muscle. Now since your classmate obviously can’t his fucking mouth shut, he’ll have to keep his butthole shut.” Ball thought everything was a joke up to that point. Then I turned to him and said on the app, “It’s not so fucking funny now, is it, you little shit?!” Eventually, I let him go as the class ended. At the time, I got sick pleasure, but I feel icky about it now. I did something heinous that cost me my job because I was underprepared and frustrated. I was let go by the agency and got what I deserved. There’s not a day or night that passes where I don’t regret what I did.

Bad Teacher, Bad Parents

Not long after, I landed a gig at an all-girls school in Bangkok. There I blossomed because I was surrounded by other Western teachers who shared ideas and techniques. I also had a great mentor who groomed me into a better teacher. None of these luxuries I had in Northeast Thailand, and I wasn’t inclined to make the same mistakes. Two years ago, I induced other questionable methods. When boys were misbehaving and horseplaying, I would have them come up to the front and do push-ups or yoga poses. This was the only way I knew to curtail bad behavior because that’s how I was dealt with in military school and boot camp. I hated both institutions with a passion and was traumatized, but I knew nothing else until I became more seasoned. I remember being assaulted by a teacher on my 14th birthday while living with Dad. The man should have been sacked. I was too young to understand, but I surmise he was placed on administrative leave because we had a substitute for two months. My father did nothing except blame me implying I instigated it. He then said, “I think teachers have no rights and that sometimes they should spank your little bottom in front of the class.” My mother, a then paralegal, would’ve nailed the guy’s balls to the wall, but that didn’t happen.

Out with the Old, In with the New

Classroom management is the hardest part of the job. There’s no question about that. Finally, I adopted some techniques one of my South African colleagues suggested. No longer did I have the boys do yoga poses and push-ups or sitting together. I had the kids sit boy-girl-boy-girl in each row and switch seats periodically. I’d also use peer pressure and reverse psychology. Each group in which they sat would have points deducted when the kids spoke out of turn or got goofy. I’d have them compete with one another, and the two groups that garnered the most points at the end of each class received awards. It didn’t take long to realize a reward system is more effective than discipline. This is one reason I have an estranged relationship with my father and few good things to say about the military. Nothing I did or said was ever good enough to measure up to their standards. No matter how hard I tried, there was nothing in it for me. I didn’t want my students to remember me the way I do my dad or the Coast Guard, so I put my ego aside and changed my ways.

Big Man on Campus

The worst thing that happened in Vietnam wasn’t as bad. I learned how to govern the class before things got out of hand. There was a 16 or 17-year-old blowhard with raging hormones trying to show off in front of his pals. He kept disrupting my class, and I wouldn’t tolerate it. One reason I learned kids act up is because their English level is low. Another is because it’s an elective class not an academic. It didn’t take long for me to deduce he was a troublemaker, so I confronted him the second week. We had a reading assignment. I had him stand up and said, “Guess who gets to read for the whole class, hotshot!” He didn’t see that coming. The boy kept slipping up and butchering the material. I corrected him in the interim. Other students wanted to volunteer, but I said, “No-no-no-no-no! Your classmate here wants to impress all his buddies. He wants to entertain us. Keep going there, hotrod!” He made an ass of himself after I punctured his ego and brought him down to earth. The boy never misbehaved again. Nobody was harmed then. With my new techniques, I had each class wrapped around my finger by the end of each term.

Violence Begets Violence

And so the lesson endeth here. Reverse psychology and reward systems on their worst day are more conducive than corporal punishment. During that time frame, I read spanking and paddling may work in the short run but cause long-lasting psychological effects like PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Unbeknownst to my younger self, my father, and many folks from his generation, violence begets violence. The former is how they join gangs and grow up to be serial killers and criminal sociopaths. One reason I quit teaching in classrooms is because I didn’t like the way TA’s would hit the students when they got rowdy. Basically, you’re showing the kids you have no self-control, and I didn’t want that on my conscience. It takes a real man to admit he was wrong, and I’m ashamed of my actions in Thailand to this day. The aforementioned piece is why I think people should be trained properly towards parenting, mentoring, and teaching children.

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School is Out, Class Dismissed

accomplishment ceremony education graduation
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My Last Year in the Classroom

Earlier this year, I opted to stop teaching in the classroom. I decided it was time to move on. I did nothing wrong with my last company. They were a great agency overall. My departure with them was amicable. I left with two letters of recommendation and a Teacher of the Year nomination, one of my greatest feats yet. My first two years teaching were the hardest. I got somewhat better during my third. That said, it was time to cut all my losses and move on. I realized halfway through my third year I was swimming against the tide. The classrooms had way too many students. Most had at least forty if not fifty. The lowest number to my recollection was in the low thirties. These were public schools in Vietnam. Some of the spaces themselves were too small for that many. They were like puppies in a kennel. I’d make them sit boy-girl-boy-girl in every row and have them fill in the seats from the front as they entered the class. I’d been doing this long enough to know the slackers and cut-ups wanted to sit in the back and hide while the Chatty Cathys would sit together in another section. That wouldn’t happen on my watch.

I’m Not a Babysitter

Of the seven classes I taught, two were a lost cause. When we start teaching, we all have this grandiose idea that we’re going to change lives and save the world. That fantasy becomes short-lived when we’ve been bunked through the system after awhile. The schools and agencies are convinced that I as a Westerner will go in there, pull my magic wand out of hat, work up miracles, and the kids will learn English overnight. It wasn’t until my third year I realized it’s a hit or miss. There’s going to be good classes and bad ones. Time and again, you’ll have kids who don’t want to learn, goof off during the lessons, and won’t stop talking. You’ll even have incompetent TA’s who don’t do jack. I’ve had a few of those as well. How naughty or well-behaved the students were was how I could tell how well or poorly managed the school was. My two lousy classes were in awful schools with faulty administrations and inadequate facilities. I gave up on Thailand after my first year when I realized I was nothing more than a glorified babysitter. There they pass the students to the next grade regardless of their performance. The kids figure this out by the time they reach sixth or seventh grade and think they can skive because they know Western teachers can’t discipline them.

Under the Bus We Go

It’s not much better in Vietnam. One of the primary reasons I quit teaching is because I was tired of having to rig grades. This is not uncommon in Asian schools. The reason they did this was all about keeping face. The agencies like to cook the books and juke the stats to get more funding from the schools. Education is run like a corporation here. If it were up to me, I would’ve flunked half the kids, but I wasn’t given that authority. They wanted me to cover their tracks so the students wouldn’t have to answer to their parents for their lackluster performance. Whenever the children get bad grades, it’s always the teachers’ fault; especially, if he’s a Westerner. That creates double trouble. Foreign teachers are the most expendable ones of the bunch. I was fired from my job with Major Education in Saigon before Tet holiday 2017. I did my duty the best I could. I didn’t do anything that would warrant termination in my book, but they didn’t see it that way. The school in District 7 where I taught was underperforming. They needed a scapegoat, and yours truly got thrown under the bus because I was a foreign teacher getting paid ten times as much as the locals. I was there just a few weeks after being transferred at the start of the new semester. Once again, the officials assumed a white person is infallible, not prone to mistakes, and supposed to build an empire overnight. They then threatened to cancel their contract with Major if the agency didn’t fire me, so I got the ax. A lot of Vietnamese companies pull this cute routine before Tet to cut down on their overhead not just schools.

The Asian Evasion

The job was doomed from the get-go. I’m not angry about it, anymore. I found a better paying gig not long after and moved on. I had a great year with EMG, but I’d decided to pursue another career plan that suits me better. The real problem is many teaching agencies in Asia overpromise. They tell you what you want to hear but fail to live up to their end of the bargain once you’re under the contract. This I suspect is why overseas teaching jobs have a high turnover rate. Many expats are disingenuous as well. It’s not uncommon for someone to work for a few months and split because they want to travel or whatever. I knew a guy who did a midnight run out of the country and landed in Oman. I had another colleague who flew back to Ireland on holiday and wound up in Australia. The agencies don’t care. We’re just a number to them. Their rationale is they can find someone to replace us within a week. This is why I’ve chosen other venues. Now I don’t have to worry when is the right time to tell someone I have Asperger’s. I miss my students (most of them anyway,) but I don’t miss the politics and unnecessary drama. Thus, I’ve opted to teach online to hold me over until I make the transition. I can live wherever I want and no longer deal with the hogwash I did teaching in the classroom or the agencies.