My sister used to boast proudly that she had been to 17 schools before she finished her primary education. I have no idea actually just how many schools I did attend but certainly I had been taught in five different countries before I moved to secondary school.
Curiously though very few of them stick in my memory and apart from one or two teachers I don’t have too much to recall. The one teacher I do remember and quite vividly at that was a certain Mr Lees, who taught at Thornliebank Primary just outside Glasgow when I was nine or ten.
Unfortunately this is not a tale of sweet childhood memories, rather the opposite. You see Mr Lees was an out and out bully and sadist. It seemed to me and the entire class that I was in that Mr Lees’ only objective was to punish children as often as possible and for the slightest reason.
If you were noisy or indeed just fidgeting in his class and he spotted it, you would be called out to the front of the class immediately. In the late 1950’s all schools in Scotland had corporal punishment as their main means of keeping discipline. And the most used weapon was the “Tawse” or strap.
In fact every lesson would see at least one or two children hauled out in front of everyone for some minor misdemeanour. Nobody complained because this was just what happened and we had all been warned by the older children who had been in his class the year before what to expect. In fact, just like kids everywhere they had delighted in telling us just what a horrible time we were going to have when we moved up to Johnny Lees’ class.
You see, Johnny Lees had taken it upon himself to become a past master at the art of beating children and so he had not one but an entire selection of these horrid straps in his desk so that he could choose exactly which one he was going to use on any occasion. His selection and sadistic approach was scary but it was not an effective way to bring about any extra discipline.
He would make sure that any offender didn’t try and dodge out of the way and would always insist that you held one hand with the other so that he got the greatest effect. And of course then he would make you swap hands over so that the other one got the same treatment.
Because he was so utterly intent on beating kids at any opportunity we soon came to expect it and took it as a necessary part of the day. To be sure on the odd occasion he went too far and that had parents turning up at school to complain to the Headmaster, but in general Johnny Lees knew just how far he could take things without getting into trouble with the authorities, and as for those parents who did complain, well they were told some cock and bull story about just how naughty their child had been and how the Tawse was the only remedy.
As people who had experienced this kind of treatment in their own school life they simply accepted that their child had overstepped the mark and so would invariably chastise their offspring for “cheeking the teacher”.
I am pretty sure that I received neither more nor less brutal treatment than the rest of the boys in the class and quite frankly it made little impression upon me. But one particular memory is still as vivid to this day for me.
We were all called into assembly in the school hall when we came back after a holiday. The headmaster looked at us all and announced that Mr Lees had been diagnosed with a terrible illness, TB or Tuberculosis, and would not be coming back to school for the rest of the year. And that was when all hell broke loose. Our entire class leapt up and started shouting and cheering.
“Wee Johnny Lees is going tae die!” “Hurrah for TB.” “Will it hurt him a lot?”
There was uproar. Teachers didn’t know what to do, this class of thirty 9 and 10 year olds were completely out of control and were delighted that their teacher was dying. What on earth was going on.
Amidst much shouting and pushing and shoving finally order was restored and our class was sent out immediately whilst the rest of assembly was concluded. When all the other classes had returned to their form rooms the headmaster, a Mr McCluskey came in with a look of thunder on his face. He told us how shocked and horrified he had been that we had been so uncaring and it was unacceptable.
We sat silently as he went on about Christian caring and the importance of respect and then announced that he would be strapping the entire class for such awful behaviour. But we didn’t care. We were rid of Johnny Lees and quite frankly Mr McCluskey didn’t put too much effort into the punishment. In fact
we all went home that afternoon thrilled to the back teeth that finally Johnny Lees was getting his payback – and maybe even would die. No matter though – the main thing was that we would never be taught by him again!