“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Mikaylah was getting paddled.

Not yet 5 feet tall or 80 pounds, she winced in pain, took a breath, brushed away tears, and walked back into her classroom. Paddled for failing a test.

A line of students stood against the wall, their eyes fixed on the wooden paddle in the principal’s hand, silently waiting their turns. I stood there and watched – there had to be a teacher witness each time the principal administered corporal punishment.

Almost daily, I’d stand in my classroom doorway and assume this role – one eye in the classroom observing my class of bright, funny, ambitious students, the other in the hallway observing a student being paddled. For cursing, for showing defiance, for being tardy.

In rural Mississippi, where I taught, corporal punishment was not only legal, it was supported by the community. It is a practice rooted in a complex history and culture – a practice that, as a 22-year-old outsider, I felt powerless in standing up against.

I will never again let myself feel powerless in fighting for something I believe in, in fighting for kids who deserve better.

I want to create, lead, and grow schools where students thrive. Where students feel valued and empowered. Where they feel happy. Where they learn.

Where Mikaylah gets the education she deserves.

— Patrick MacKenzie