Corporal Punishment in Schools

How many incidents of corporal punishment were there in your school district in 2003? If you would like to find out how many and what schools, take a look at what the Office for Civil Rights at has to offer you for statistics.

In the 22 states where some form of corporal punishment is legal in schools in the United States, black students are disproportionately on the receiving end of the stick. They comprise 17% of all students in the United States, but receive 38% of all paddlings. Some states have limited bans, others allow a policy to be adopted district by district. Very few have actual limitations on what corporal punishment means. Should students be struck with paddle, ruler, hand, or something else? How many times? Should the punishment be public or private? Should they be hit on the hand or the tushie? 9 states have guarantee teachers immunity from prosecution if corporal punishment is administered according to district policy. We’re not talking about teachers defending themselves from student assault – we are talking about old fashioned paddling and more.

Corporal punishment is a hot topic on the forums of this site. People will agree to disagree on how discipline is handled in their homes, but school is another story. I believe that when researching a school district for possibly buying a house, relocating to the neighborhood, etc, parents should pay attention to these statistics about discipline with as much passion as they do about testing and college acceptance.

From my experience in the classroom, and in child care settings, I have to say that when corporal punishment is administered, it is an indication that more than the child is out of control. Spanking or paddling is highly disruptive to a classroom, and does little as a deterrent. All it does is set up another excuse for interruption, and set the class in a negative pattern of avoidance, scapegoating, and fear. It does not impart respect.

The best and most sustainable classroom control is done through positive and firm means. When actions have consequences, the effective teacher follows through consistently. Also, the students have to be engaged in the activity of the classroom. If they are bored, they will get into trouble.

Sure, you think, and when she was in the classroom it was in all the easy places. Well, I have been in situations where I lost control of myself. And guess what? You don’t get control of a class that way, and you don’t get control of the class back so easily.

One of my early substitute teaching jobs was in a sixth grade in New York City, where the students were chanting “Kill the Sub! Kill the Sub!” as I walked in. Guess what? No paddle, no belt, no ruler, and no means of corporal punishment will get you past that situation.

I used The Look.

The Look is very effective in a classroom on the verge of going wild, because the kids who really are just going with the flow melt first. I zeroed The Look on two students in the back row who were just having a fine old time. As everyone quieted, they were still going strong – once their support was gone, they quieted down.

I introduced myself, told them where the regular teacher was, and made a joke about all the things substitute teachers can teach – reading, writing, self defense….They started to relax.

As I wrote the assignment the regular teacher had left on the board, I heard the rustling and knew what came next. BAM! All the books were on the floor, and all the kids were laughing raucously.

I turned around, put the chalk down, and sat down at the desk, waiting. As they quieted down, in disappointment that I had not exploded comically all over them, I quietly announced to the stragglers in the back “I can wait”. Again, The Look.

When they quieted, I told them they were not the first class to do the substitute teacher book slam trick. And I told them it was a pretty good practical joke the first time, but after a while, it gets old. I told them to pick up the books. They did. Then I smiled. We resumed the lesson – and the two kids in the back tried to get it going again, but the other children stopped them. Enough was enough.

During the course of the day, I found excuses to bring the two troublemakers closer to me. The class was shocked when I asked them to pass out papers, or collect supplies and put them away. Several students wanted to make sure I knew that this was just not done. I told them that just for today, this is the way we do it. I also made sure that other students were recognized for good work.

I had a GREAT day – and these kids were happy to see me again on other occasions.

I heartily recommend that those who wish to become teachers get some real world experience in substitute teaching while they are still in college taking classes, and being mentored. Don’t burn yourself out, but get a taste of it. This is different from your regular student teaching practicum. If you substitute teach while you still have support for yourself in place you will encounter all sorts of classrooms, all sorts of students, many different situations, and you will learn what works and what doesn’t. Subs routinely develop a “bag of tricks” to use at a moment’s notice. Corporal punishment is not part of a successful substitute teacher’s “bag”. Successful teachers develop the habit of thinking on their feet – and administering corporal punishment gets in the way of successful teaching.