The day my teacher hit me

1988. The year of our bicentenary. The year Home and Away launched. The year the 50m penalty was introduced in the VFL.

I was seven years old and attending a small christian school in Joondalup. My family had recently moved from Victoria, and I was in the second grade in a classroom that included year ones, twos and threes. 

This particular day was like any other. I was sitting towards the rear of the class where the twos and threes sat, or perhaps I was sitting with the smart kids. 

The teacher gave an instruction for everyone to be quiet. 

Everyone was quiet. A little time passed, and I spoke to a peer sitting next to me about something I deemed important. 

The teacher heard me. She asked me to stand up and come out of the class with her. She was completely calm. No anger or frustration at all. 

She explained that I had spoken after she had given clear instructions to everyone to be quiet, and now I was going to be getting the cane. 

There was a consequence for my decision.

I was in complete shock. My mother had smacked me plenty of times. But never for the first time you disobeyed her. She only did it when she was a ball of frustrated rage at her whits end, so you could try and gauge how much you could push her. 

But this teacher was not angry at me. She instructed me to bend over and pull my pants down. I was hit once or twice with a stick of some description. Then it was over. 

I fought back the tears as I returned to the class. 

And I never got the cane again. Nor was I disrespectful towards my teachers for the rest of my school life (more or less).

Now, I'm not advocating for smacking children. I don't smack my own, and I have heard too many stories where children were beaten mercilessly by teachers who clearly needed to be locked away themselves. So I certainly don't commend hitting as an intrinsically good way of training children. 

However, what became very clear to me from this teacher's actions were two things:

1. I knew where I stood. 

2. She meant what she said. 

It was very clear what the consequences were for certain courses of action. There was no ambiguity. The punishment dished out was not dependant on the teacher's mood that day, or her blood sugar level, or whether I had had a good track record up until that point.

Action = Consequence. 

So in choosing how I was to behave in the future I had a clear understanding of what the consequences would be for any action I might take. 

I believed what she said. I listened carefully when she spoke because I knew she meant what she said. From then on, she had my respect

Being Consistent

Since becoming a Father, I have learned to maintain a level of predictability and consistency with my children. 

When it's time for them to hop off the computer, for example, I used to have to tell them many times. They would ignore or refuse the first request. They would argue or flat out disobey. I would repeat the instruction. Then I would repeat it again. Then I would threaten. Then I would threaten in a more stern voice. Then I would argue some more. Then I would have to physically drag them away... you get the picture. 

After a while I realised that by not being clear with the consequences the first time I said something I was actually TRAINING my kids to not believe me, and to just do what they felt like. So one day I said (something along the lines of), "Turn the Macs off or you won't be allowed on them for the entire weekend." They didn't respond, so the punishment was inflicted. I didn't raise my voice, despite their protesting. And I didn't argue. I just pointed out that they had been told what the consequence would be, and they were old enough to understand (4 and 6). It was unpleasant for them. They informed my that they hated me and I was the worst Dad in the world. And I took no pleasure in punishing them. But we all made it through alive. 

The next time I said turn off the Macs, they paused for a moment, remembered that I meant what I said, and turned them off. Now, (most of the time) I just have to give an instruction once and they comply. 

I don't have to get angry, they aren't confused as to whether I mean what I say or not. Everyone is happier.

They're not mindless drones, by any measure. They negotiate, ask for more time, and try and explain why Minecraft is good for them. But they listen to my instructions. 

They believe I mean what I say, and I have their respect

So what's this got to do with anything?

As I sat in court a few weeks ago listening to a bunch of different cases come before the magistrate, I was blown away with how much like a frustrated parent he was. People who had been breaking VROs, people who had been stealing, people who had been drink driving and wanted their E plates...

He would constantly berate each person who came before him, before giving them absolutely no consequence for their crime other than a threat that if they did it again they could maybe expect something more serious. 

I was flabergasted.

So they basically did the wrong thing. They KNEW they did the wrong thing. This WASN'T THE FIRST TIME they had done the wrong thing. Yet STILL they were granted their E plates, spared a prison sentence, or just generally let off virtually scott free. 

I despaired for our community at large. 

I felt sorry for the Police that had worked so damn hard to catch these people committing crimes in the first place. 

I reflected on my own parenting, and how by being inconsistent and having no clear consequence for behaviour, it was MY fault my kids continued disobeying. 

In the latest "E Watch" newsletter sent out by Geraldton Police, Senior Sergeant Martin Haime reflected on the increase in burglaries around Geraldton, and said regarding the culprits: "many of our charged offenders are repeat customers who seem to have little respect for the police, the community and the justice system."

He did not blame the justice system, but in my opinion it's quite clear why these folk don't respect the justice system... The justice system is like a parent who makes idle threats and raises their voice.

Those parents never get any respect