School Lunches and ‘B’ is for Beautiful, ‘D’ is for Dysfunctional

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.

A 1970’s lunchbox

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.

Marmite, cheese and celery sandwich.

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.

Marmite and lettuce sandwiches with that compulsory lunchbox item, the mandarin

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.

Cheese sticks from a block because processed cheese sticks weren’t invented and celery with peanut butter because peanuts weren’t banned from schools because no one had a nut allergy.

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.

Dried apricots. Imported from Australia and the best quality because the cheap, pale, rubbery variety from Turkey had not been introduced.

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.

Boiled eggs. Free-range because how else would it live.

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.

Raw peanuts because they’re very good for you and they were not banned because it was up to parents to decide what they put in their child’s lunch box

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  1. Lucky Alfie.

    I had a couple of those absolutely horrible teachers. Fortunately, though, ruler-whacking was outlawed by the 1980’s. Also fortunately, I had a few teachers that almost completely made up for the bad ones.

    Your lunch box goodies look yummy.

    Take care,

  2. this looks like an amazing packed lunch! I need to start making things like that to take to work! I had a terrifying teacher when I was in infants school, I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been if they were allowed to discipline us like that!

  3. Mrs B is honoured to have made it onto your amazing blog, Charlie!! Thank you for all your lovely compliments. I do smile a lot because I love my job (particularly when I have an Alfie in my class!)

  4. Minnesota Prairie Roots says:

    What a horrible, awful teacher. My husband, who attended Catholic school, had nuns who also used rulers and one who drilled her thumb into the tops of students’ heads. I had wonderful elementary school teachers. But I had a junior high math teacher who yelled at and belittled students. And, like you, I struggled with math. To this day I still detest anything to do with numbers and much of it is because of that mean, mean teacher who should have never been in a classroom.

  5. J Cosmo Newbery says:

    Yes, yes and yes!

  6. Amy @ Elephant Eats says:

    Oh goodness, I’m sorry you had such a horrible experience. I have to say that I’m extremely grateful for the grammar school I went to. There were only 16 kids in my entire grade and the teachers were all spectacular. I actually looked forward to going to school every day from nursery thru 8th grade.

  7. It sounds like you had a pretty miserable year and you probably still don’t like maths much. Alfie is a lucky boy indeed to have such an upbeat and pleasant teacher. Yummy lunch and I especially like the various peanut products. I really don’t remember anyone having peanut allergy issues when I went to grade school or even high school. What happened?

  8. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella says:

    Oh what a horrible teacher! And yes I remember when everyone used to have peanut butter sandwiches! Those were the days 🙂

  9. Gee if that wasn’t a horrible year in school I don’t know what would be. I had my fair share of miserable teachers, but nothing like your experience, hope that was the only year you had to experience that kind of schooling. I love your lunch box ideas, they are all great and healthy, I’m a little stumped on some ideas for lunch this year since where I am there are no peanuts or any kind of nuts allow, it leaves out a lot of great snack options.

  10. Glamorous Glutton says:

    It’s strange isn’t it how teachers like that survived in the systems! I remember a similar teacher when I was about 9 who smacked you with each word she was saying to tell you off. My mother complained but was told the school was powerless to sack her. I’m amazed you are able to do any Mathis at all and that she didn’t traumatise you for good! As for the 70s lunch box, it was school dinners all the way then. Very few children brought their own lunch, we all suffered together the gristly stew and under cooked sausages. Yours looks so so much nicer! GG

  11. Victoria at Flavors of the Sun says:

    How disturbing it is at every level to have an educator that just pulls you down instead of inspiring you. Sad. So glad Alfie is having better luck!

    Love the photos of the lunchbox of your youth. Similar to my own, but we would never have had Marmite or Vegemite or anything like it. I hadn’t been introduced to those at that point.

    Glad to know you were traumatized by that horrible year.

  12. I do find it odd that the kids today have so many allergies. That teacher sounds horrible, I’m surprised that she was allowed to teach for so many years! It would be illegal today for a teacher to hit a student; in my day the principal gave some boys a good whipping with a belt — they had special permission from the father! We were at the cottage this weekend, just got back so I’m scrambling to catch up.

  13. yummychunklet says:

    I have successfully blocked out all my negative teachers and only have memories of the good ones. Tasty photos!

  14. Love the retro food 🙂

  15. Choc Chip Uru says:

    Alfie is lucky to have Mrs B my friend, and Mrs D sounds like my kindergarten teacher though luckily abuse was no longer allowed!
    You or any child does not deserve such harsh treatment ever!

    Choc Chip Uru

  16. What an evil woman Mrs D was! Interesting photos of your 70’s lunch. I just can’t get my head wrapped around marmite, though!

  17. Mrs D sounds like my middle school teacher…who had tought my Dad also, showing she should have retired years before I got to her! But, I think she want on to teach many years after I left her class! Your lunch box looks very healthy….and tasty too! That’s why I don’t understand the need to add all the unhealthy preservatives to lunch boxes.

  18. Celery and peanut butter on a sandwich? I love it. And I don’t think I would have survived that classroom! Ouch!

    • Never mind…marmite and lettuce sandwiches…reading on my phone and the images are shown funny. Never had marmite, but now I am curious about celery and PB sandwiches. Lol!

  19. Claire @ Claire K Creations says:

    Oh Charlie don’t get me started on school lunchboxes. I don’t even have kids and it infuriates me that parents are told what they can and can’t feed their children.

    A friend was told she couldn’t pack homemade muffins (which were full of lots of good things) but packaged muesli bars were ok. It’s nuts.

    Lucky Alfie! I was in 2B too! I was very lucky to get great teachers when I was in primary school apart from grade 3. Mrs Robinson used to chew gum constantly and if it wasn’t in her mouth it was behind her ear. Yuk!

  20. ChopinandMysaucepan says:

    Dear Charlie,

    Growing up in Malaysia, Marmite brings back so many fond memories of my childhood. The simplest was pouring hot water and making soup out of it or spreading it on toast. Marmite, celery and cheese is something I have never tried let alone just using celery in stews and soup.

  21. ChgoJohn says:

    We had some tough teaches in my parochial grammar school but none like your Mrs. Dawson. Hopefully that woman retired after your class graduated, sparing any more children her pathetic attempts at instruction. You’re right about the lunches, Charlie. Living so close to school, we rarely ate lunch there but, when we did, there was nothing pre-packaged in our bags and we drank white milk with it. A far cry from today.

  22. The Café Sucré Farine says:

    I went to a Catholic elementary school and some of the nuns were exactly like you described Mrs. Dawson – it wasn’t always fun but it left a lot of good stories to tell, like yours!

  23. I think those mothers are right, Alfie is lucky! Now that my child has been all the way through school I can look back and be shocked at how many “D” for dysfunctional teachers he really did have. First grade was the worst. I would give her a Capital D with a few exclamation points. And it was Catholic school…big surprise. Ha!

    I’ve never had marmite but I do remember how good school lunches were in the “olden days”! Real food. Now it’s just plain scary.


  24. Christina Soong-Kroeger says:

    What a horrible woman – she should never have been a teacher! Loved the 70s nostalgia of the lunchbox though.

  25. Cheese, marmite and celery – beautiful memories 🙂 Not so beautiful, though, are your memories with Mrs D. Awful!! I am so glad Alfie is having a better time this year.

  26. Suzanne Perazzini says:

    I’m just wondering what your parents thought of your ruined knuckles? Was it a case of not interfering with the teacher because she knew best? That really is a horrific story of teacher abuse – mentally and physically.

  27. OrgasmicChef says:

    Good thing my father wasn’t around Mrs. Dawson or he would have “cleaned her clock” with the school superintendent for the region. Dad never wanted anything special for any of the 3 of us but let a teacher mistreat one and all 5’7″ of him would send him non-stop until it was sorted. God help the teacher who would hit a student. Teachers Like Mrs. Dawson should never be allowed to teach because that’s not learning anything but fear.

    We lived close enough to primary school that I could walk home for lunch and when I was older I went to a girls’ school and had to eat with the nuns, so I never had a school lunch. I feel left out. 🙂

  28. Juliet Batten says:

    Horrible. I had a teacher like that too. But then there were the gems. Lucky Archie for having Miss Bee. You must be so happy about that.

  29. says:

    Its very precious these days to get a good teacher that loves there job and encourages your child. We, on the other hand, had to be seen and not heard… isn’t that right?

  30. I had a terrible 2nd grade teacher that was absolutely horrific to me.

    Here’s the dog biscuit recipes! It’s the Dot one in th emiddle. Bitty loves it–she’s had so many teeth pulled that it’s hard for her to chew.

  31. Mandy - The Complete Cook Book says:

    I shan’t tell you what I think of that dreadful Mrs Dawson as I am a lady!
    Celery and peanut butter is a new one to me – I actually thought it was tuna-mayo in the celery.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  32. InTolerant Chef says:

    We had almost the same lunches! But it was vegemite and lettuce- fantastic in winter, but oh-so-gross-and-slimy in Queenlands 35* summer heat 🙁
    My littlej had a beautiful teacher like that too. She even came to her birthday party and would save little bits of the school work to show us. The best thing was when she privately gave me back one of my daughters journal entries as she thought it was so funny and dangerous. Littlej had to write about her school holiday and complained bitterly about being held hostage for 2 weeks with no one looking after her and no ‘real’ food to eat. The teacher burst out laughing when I explained that my husband and I were BOTH bed ridden with pneumonia for the whole time, but adequate supervision and food had been provided- although of the TV and microwave varitiy 🙂

  33. Omg that teacher sounds so horrible I m so glad Alfie has a nice teacher I think teachers are really important!! Oh wow that lunch box looks so healthy and something I think our kids and adults should eat more!

    Sorry I ve been slow with reading your posts I’ve been so busy with training hope you’ve had a nice week 🙂

  34. How wonderful that Alfie has a kind and loving teacher, Charlie! I have similar memories of teacher who used to use her ruler similarly! It’s hard to comprehend that level of cruelty today, but we know that physical punishment isn’t the only way to demean and break the spirit of children! My granddaughter begins Kindergarten next week and I’ve been thinking about the “luck of the draw” when it comes to teachers! I also really love the consideration you’ve given to the lunchboxes we used to have and the simple nutrition! No frills perhaps, but real food! A lot of things have improved through the years, but I don’t think it’s the food supply! Alfie is a fortunately little guy to have so much support! It’s wonderful! 🙂

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