Friday, May 13, 2011

The Jungle Law

In the book The Giver the character Jonas must receive the world’s worst memories and thus protect all laymen from pain. As he takes on memories of war and starvation and loneliness, he sees his childhood fading and adulthood taking its place. He loses the spring in his step and the listlessness in his play.

I have had to be a disciplinarian today…this whole week actually, and I think I know why the world has so many bad parents. It’s easier to let things slide. It’s easier not to call home after I’ve threatened. It’s easier not to write a referral after the warning. It’s easier to talk than act.

My students are growing tired of the same old school routines. They know the rules, so now it’s time to break them and brag to friends about what you got away with in Bible class. A couple in love sneaks off for some privacy. Kids text in class. They see how many teachers won’t notice gum in their mouths. They squiggle and squirm and the greatest weapon we teachers have against them is the referral.

A referral covers a multitude of sins: a referral for being tardy, for an academic appointment no-show, for back talking, disobedience, chewing gum, and cheating. A tick mark on their record and off to a lunchtime detention for 20 minutes in an air-conditioned room where most of their friends are too. Oh yes, and they get first pick at the lunch line because they aren’t allowed to be late to detention. Tell me how this is punishment.

This past weekend when I discovered blatant signs of cheating among homework papers, I decided that I had to be firm. I had to be tougher now than I’d been at the beginning of the year. If my kids started testing the waters, I had to remind them that the deep end still existed.

God help me be firm. Help me to be level headed and unemotional.

I brought about justice for twelve offenses. I assigned sentences for forgotten school supplies. One kid was in twice. I guess the first time didn’t leave a big enough impression on him, so I had him fill both sides with sentences the second time around: “I will bring my composition book to class.” I called students in to fix the stapler they broke. I e-mailed home. I sent girls to the office for low shirts and high skirts. And yes I wrote referrals as well—school policy requires it.

Tomorrow is Friday and I feel weighed down, like Jonas with the world’s memories. The world looks different when I play the part of disciplinarian. Sometimes it feels like I’m trudging through mud. Maybe I see what my Dad meant when he said, “This hurts me more than it hurts you” right before he gave me a spanking. That made no sense when I lay awake in bed with tears in my eyes and a stinging bottom. But I know I didn’t think twice about the spanking the next day.

“One of the beauties of Jungle Law is that punishment settles all scores. There is no nagging afterward” (Rudyard Kipling in The Jungle Book). There is relief in the pain, as if the students want it. Please. Please. Please. Just punish me. Aunt Robin told me about how she and Uncle David once returned from a trip to their daughters. One of the daughters had been naughty and when her mother came in, she ran up and begged, “Spank me, Mommy. Spank me!”

The sins that haunt me the most are those that I’ve not been punished for, but I’ve never thought to ask God for punishment. Perhaps I should. If only my punishment could be a quick slap on the bottom.

My labors haven’t been without rewards. One student thanked me for having him write sentences. Another has grown more congenial with me. The cheating ones didn’t pout. They accepted their punishment and slipped right into their daily Math lessons, raising their hands to ask me questions and even volunteering to do work on the board.

The highlight of the week was when I told my students that they each had to complete one homework problem before the bell rung or else I’d make them late to their next class—automatic referral.

One student asked, “Would you really do that?”

“Oh ya. She’d do it,” another replied.

I think I’ve put the fear of the deep end back into them.

O Lord, keep me consistent.