Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Fair and Talented Disciplinarian

by Phil Cooper

Carl, Seeing the picture of Miss Hortense brought back a flood of memories for me. As I have mentioned before, I was among the first of the Baby Boomers to enter the Baldwyn school system in the early 50’s. I was one of seven students that failed second grade in 54/55. I stuttered terribly and could not or would not read aloud. At any rate, when school started back in the fall, Mrs. Bryson’s’ second grade class was way over crowded, so, Miss Hortense took the seven repeaters into her room. Being the principal, she did not normally have students, but the influx of students and shortage of class rooms forced the situation. The seven were Jimmy Joyner, Jimmy Rowan, Jimmy Hester, Jimmy Raper, Billy Gray, Betty Gray and me. Now that I think about it, Mrs. Bryson might have had something against Jimmys!

From our first days of school in Miss Hallie Vandiver’s class, we were all scared to death of the infamous paddle Miss Hortense kept in the top right hand drawer of her desk. And, I am sure that every one of us, including Betty, had had our rear ends warmed up by it at least once. If you recall, the disciplinary practice back then was to stick any misbehavers out in the hall and wait for Miss Hortense to spot the perpetrators and take care of correcting things. So, all during the day as she was instructing us, she would frequently walk over to the door, stick her head out and peer up and down the hall. We were witness to countless tail warmings, but she never had to spank any of her seven students. Being an eyewitness to how well she could utilize that big oak paddle and how liberally she applied it was all the deterrent needed to keep the seven of us toeing the mark.

Probably the most beneficial part of being in her class with so few classmates was the individualized instruction we received. Yes, she was an excellent administrator and notorious disciplinarian, but she was also a gifted teacher.

Substitute teachers were almost unheard of then, so, if one of the elementary teachers had to be out, she would just march us into that teacher’s class and teach that group and us in the same room. The benefit to us was that we got exposed to fourth, fifth, and sixth grade material early. All of us did well under her instruction and were promoted. By the start of school the next year the student population had grown even more, so, Miss Hortense decided to keep the seven of us along with a few others who hadn’t done well during their first attempt at third grade. I ended up having her for two remarkable years and I did not stutter when I left her class for the fourth grade. I don’t know whether she scared it out of me or I just out grew it, but I never hesitated to stand and read when she called on me!

One day during recess I snagged a hole in the seat of my pants. We were playing on an old wooden fence that bordered the playground and, when the bell rang, I jump from atop one of the post and a nail ripped a large ‘L” shaped hole. Betty Gray sat directly behind me and when Miss Hortense called on me and I stood up to answer her question, Betty started pointing at the hole in my pants and laughing. Miss Hortense motioned for me to come to her desk, she looked the situation over, pulled out a needle and thread, bent me over her lap and proceeded to sew up my pants while never missing a beat with her teaching. My classmates thought it was very funny and I took quite a ribbing about it. But, as I remember it, I was just glad to have my skinny little butt covered up!

Fortunately, I got the opportunity to talk with her a short time before she died. I was home on leave, heard that she wasn’t well and went to see her. You would have never known she was ill by the strength in her voice and how tightly she hugged me. We talked and laughed at length. I went there to try to be of some comfort to her and all she wanted to talk about was how proud she was of me!

Thanks, Phil. Great story! I am sure there are many readers who agree precisely.


  1. Thanks for sharing, Phil. Miss Hortense must have taught you some writing skills as well. Appreciate your comments.

  2. Yep, wish I had written that! Good recollections of a "mystery woman". She was all positive, the only thing is that she whooped us hard, but that taught us a lesson and I believe that was beneficial to the good character of person we all turned out to be...

  3. Thanks, Phil, for showing a side of Miss Hortense that many do not know about.
    Good story.

  4. I just finished a comment on this lady, however it wound up in a different blog--it can be found on down the way :o) and Phil thanks for the remembrances

    John M