Stay In Your Seat!

I wrote a poem, A Striking Example, based on the story you are about to read. It’s a painful tale about my first day of fifth grade in Mr. Powell’s class; a day that began with me having a very painful tail.

It was common knowledge that Mr. Powell was a feared and respected teacher and those of us who’d drawn him as our fifth grade teacher knew full well we would have to toe the line or suffer the consequences, via his “board” of education.

It was not only a common practice for teachers to give “swats” to unruly or disobedient students back then, it considered a necessary part of a young person’s (mostly boys) education. One had to learn that actions resulted in consequences.

So, there we were, all bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed; our best new school clothes on and our hair brylcreemed, or butch-waxed, into submission. In those days, boys wore their hair in one of the following: A short-parted-on-the-side-comb-over, a flat top, or a crew-cut. Brylcreem was the hair product used to tame the comb-over, and butch-wax was used to make the flat-top or crew-cut stand up straight in the front. In any case, we were looking sharp for the first day of school.

The first thing Mr. Powell did was introduce himself then explain to us what we already knew; there would be no foolishness tolerated in his classroom. We were all frozen in place as he delivered his opening day remarks. When he was finished, he asked if there were any questions, and when no one raised their hand signaling a request to speak, he smiled and said something I will never forget.

“Okay. I’m going down to the office. Don’t get out of your seat for any reason.” Then, he strode to the rear of the eerily silent classroom and went out the door. No one moved a muscle, or said a word for about a minute.

I looked around and saw the pencil sharpener, which just happened to be located by the door—the same door Mr. Powell had went through mere seconds earlier. I looked at my unsharpened #2 Ticonderoga, decided this would be a good time to hone it to a fine point, stood up and walked to the pencil sharpener.

There was a collective gasp of horror, and my best friend, Barry, said, in a shrieking whisper, “Mashburn! Are you crazy? Sit down!”

I looked over at him and shrugged—noting that every head in the classroom was swiveled and marking my progress toward the pencil sharpener. I’d never seen so many bugged out eyes in my young life.

“I’m just going to sharpen my pencil,” I said. I saw no need to keep my voice lowered, seeing as how Mr. Powell was at the other end of the building by now. I’d barely finished the sentence when the door flew open, nearly striking my arm as I reached to put my pencil in the sharpener.

My eyes now matched the rest of the twenty-nine set of insectile orbs in the room, as I stared up into the face of a smiling Mr. Powell. It took my brain about two seconds to figure out he’d been waiting on the other side of the door to see if some fool would disobey his first instruction of the year.

He crooked his index finger at me, and beckoned me follow him to the front of the classroom. I thought I was going to either pass out or throw up, and my legs seemed like empty—albeit very slim—gunny sacks, as I followed his hulking form to the front of the room.

Needless to say, I spent a very uncomfortable day shifting from one cheek to the other, trying to ease the pain. I will say this, I did not receive another swat from Mr. Powell that year, and most of my classmates were convinced to toe the line as well.

Yes, I had been made a very striking example for all to see.


  1. Sherry Mashburn said

    See! I knew you were an example for others!!

  2. gary said

    I also got his attention the year before more than once.

    • Slow learner were ya?? I think I remember you being somewhat of a legend in Mr. Powell’s class now that I think about it. You and Kenny Smith were like his favorite targets. Am I right?

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