Old Time Teachers and The Arithmetic Circle of Doom

My Grade 5 Teacher, Miss W., could draw a nearly perfect circle on the blackboard – freehand. She would face the board, take up a piece of chalk, and almost by magic her arm would go through the full range of motion needed to draw one very nice circle. It was impressive, even though it was the prelude to the hell that was to follow. She would write the numbers from one to twelve around the perimeter of the circle. Then the whole class would wait in dreaded anticipation for what was going to be written in the exact center of the circle. It would be a number between one and twelve and immediately after this number would be the sign of doom – a plus sign, a minus sign, a multiplication sign or a division sign. With that task competed, we all knew what the instrument of torture was going to be.

We would slink down in our seats, and try to look like we weren’t there. Miss W. would pick up her pointer, and with a sly smile on her face, she would gaze out the window. Without even looking at the children, she would call out the name of her victim. This poor soul would have to stand in the aisle next to their desk, and Miss W. would start stabbing her pointer at the numbers around the perimeter while the victim tried to call out the correct mathematical response.

A wrong answer was met with a Miss W’s. icy glare, then the pointer would come down sharply on the same number again. Somehow her pointer made a different sound when it struck the number that second time. The rest of the class perked up as the trembling victim struggled to find the right answer, an answer which had likely fled the scene and would not be found again that day. We all learned a lot about working under pressure in her class…

In those days of yore, Corporal Punishment was a perfectly acceptable tool in a teacher’s arsenal. Miss W. would never use her magic pointer to strike a student. She used the yard stick for that. I don’t remember what circumstances warranted a whack on the shoulders with that ruler – I just remember how startling it was when she came up from behind, with the stealth of a cat, and delivered the blow. It didn’t really hurt all that much – it was just such a surprise. We all learned a lot about consequences in her class…

At the end of the school year, our whole group passed Grade 5. Every single child had worked to the maximum of their potential because they never wanted to enter Miss W’s. classroom again. Failure would have meant another year of torture from the Circle of Doom and the Yardstick of Punishment, and no child was strong enough to survive that for two years. At least, that is what we all thought. We all learned a lot about motivation in her class… 

10 thoughts on “Old Time Teachers and The Arithmetic Circle of Doom

  1. It’s still hard for me to believe that schools and teachers were able to hit students way back when although I certainly witnessed it numerous times myself. Thankfully it was never me that got hauled out into the hallway, but I remember kids getting pulled out of class and getting hit with a paddle. That’s crazy! Not to get into a debate on corporal punishment but I’ve never hit my kids and I can’t imagine anyone else hitting them. But it was a different world then (for me, the 1970’s) and that wasn’t really that long ago!


    1. I certainly don’t believe children should be beaten. But I do believe there are occasions where some form of mild corporal punishment, like a swat on the backside, is appropriate if other forms of behaviour modification fail.
      There are two schools of thought in regard to spanking. The anti-spanking side of the debate is well documented and easy to find. The pro-side is not easy to find, but here is one source:

      Click to access fuller_spanking.pdf


  2. This is a very nice read, Margie. I remember when the teacher posed a difficult problem in class, I would lower my head, its like “If I can’t see her face, she won’t see mine and I won’t be called!” Its ironic that the strictest (is there such a word?) teachers are the ones we remember most. And usually they are good.


  3. Well written, very entertaining, and yes, I go back that far. Perhaps the key word is consequences. There don’t seem to be many these days, and one doesn’t really learn anything without consequences.

    Tien’s right– the tough teachers are usually the ones you remember with affection and gratitude. Nice post!


    1. Society seems to think there should be no consequences to their actions. There comes a time when this model doesn’t work any more.


  4. Teachers like that should be banned from schools and kids. Those are usually witches whose private life is either unsuccessful or non-existent. The reason they go to school is to exercise their power over kids. I worked in school for 7 years and saw plenty of that attitude.
    Sorry you had to have a teacher like that!


    1. I think of Miss W. as my one year at Army boot camp, kids version. We all learned a lot of things that made us stronger and better prepared for real life. I think every kid should have at least one teacher like her.


  5. Hi,
    A great post, yes it was a different time back then,(It seems like a lifetime ago) kids seem to have had more respect not only for people but property as well, than they do now. There was always consequences if you did not do the right thing.


    1. Consequences – yes, I think society (especially here in Canada) is moving more and more into a mindset where people are not accountable for their actions. Ever increasing taxes go to programs to protect people from the consequences of these actions.


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