As I walked Alfie into school this morning I saw his lovely teacher who was smiling and laughing and looking so happy to be there. Alfie is so lucky to be in her class and I know this because all the other mothers whose sons and daughters missed out, will never let me forget that Alfie is lucky.
And it made me think back to the teacher I had when I was in Year 2 and unlike Alfie, I was not lucky. I wasn’t in Mrs Bee’s, ‘B for Beautiful’ class, I was in Mrs Dawson’s class and there was nothing beautiful about it because Mrs Dawson was ‘D’ for dysfunctional.
I had just moved up from the Infants Department where I had young and attractive and kind and smiling and happy teachers, and Mrs Dawson was my introduction to the middle school. Mrs Dawson was too old to be teaching. Too old, too tired, too cross and too mean. She had many hard-etched lines on her face. She looked angry all the time and she never spoke, she just screamed.
At all times she carried with her a wooden ruler with a metal edge. You could be completely absorbed in your work and next thing she’d bring that ruler down hard on your knuckles. Whack! And I’d be so startled and shocked and not to mention, in a lot of pain. ‘That answer’s wrong’, she’d scream, ‘Do it again and get it right’. And my hands would be so sore I could barely lift my pencil that would have splattered across the desk when the ruler made impact. With my hands now covered in red welts she’d lean over me screaming, ‘Pick up your pencil and do it again. Think about what you’re doing’. And if I didn’t pick up the pencil straight away I’d be given another whack on my already red and welted fingers.
The lessons I dreaded the most were maths. She demanded that you understand it immediately even though she hadn’t adequately explained it. I was too scared to ask questions. One of the things I didn’t understand was how you could subtract a larger number from a smaller number like if the sum was 24 – 16, how do you take 6 away from 4.
One day we were having to do these sorts of maths questions and Mrs Dawson had the questions on bits of cardboard. She spread them out all over the carpeted rug and we had to get down on the floor and pick them up and write down the answers and then show her every time we completed a card. I was very busy down on my hands and knees trying to find the sums that made sense like subtracting a smaller number from a bigger number.
My anxiety levels rose when the cards with the easy sums were all completed leaving only the tricky ones. Well Mrs Dawson would give you a whack for being idle as well so I picked up a card and thought the way you do these questions must be to reverse the numbers. So if it was 6 minus 8, I changed it to 8 minus 6. Whack went the ruler and the screaming began. ‘What do you think you’re doing? You’re just wasting everyone’s time. Pick up some cards and go and sit at a desk and you won’t be moving from there until you get them all right’.
I hated school that year. I dreaded the start of each day and I couldn’t wait for the 3pm bell to ring. I was often caught day-dreaming and staring out the window (dreaming of my freedom I believe) and so I had many whacks with the ruler for that crime as well.
There were a few days that year that were a blessing from heaven. I’d get to school and a relief teacher would walk in. Mrs Dawson would be off sick. Everyone in the class would be overjoyed. The relief teacher would speak gently and read us funny poems like, ‘The Slippery Soap’ and let us do colouring-ins and scribble drawings all afternoon. I’d pray all day that Mrs Dawson would be so sick she could never return. Ah, but Mrs Dawson was a fighter and before too long she’d be back in the classroom with her wooden ruler, her conduct certainly not mellowed through illness.
But back in ‘2B for Beautiful’, this morning Mrs Bee asked me to quickly come up to the classroom. She just had to show me a story Alfie had written last Friday. Mrs Bee loved that story and thought I just had to see it. She is a teacher who loves her students and loves her job and smiles and laughs and wears a happy face all the time. The other mothers are right, Alfie is lucky. And ‘B’ is for beautiful and ‘D’ is for dysfunctional.
Here are some images of my typical 1970’s lunch box that is different to today’s lunch box in that nothing was out of a packet and there were no sugars, preservatives, colourings or GMO foods.
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