Thursday, April 21, 2011

All the Little People (Or, How I Quit My New Job in Just a Week)

I'm sure that if you've turned on your televisual communication device within the last year, no matter WHERE you live, there's a story somewhere about some schmuck in an educational field who's gotten either fired, reprimanded or firebombed for probably telling the absolute truth about what goes on in their classroom TO THE WHOLE INTERNET. My only thought, when seeing a story like that is, "Did they not think anyone was going to see that?" Those pesky kids. They're all about The Facebook.

Although I definitely set a personal record for the amount of time elapsed between being hired and deciding that my job was mind-bendingly awful and leaving (one week) I'm slightly wary about making the whole sordid tale a matter of public record due to the involvement of children. (not mine. well, one of mine, but lots of ones who weren't mine. who might have litigious parents.) However, since I will use no real names ( especially not the name or location of the center in question) and am no longer employed, I feel slightly less queasy about it.

When searching for a pre-school with the Prawn (who is now 4, by the way, sheesh.) when I first arrived, she initially attended a pre-school that I almost didn't leave her in on the first day. I opened the door to discover a perfectly crafted "nursery chaos" scene before me. Kids running rampant, throwing toys, hitting each other with anything they could lay their hands on AND the director's 11 year old son, who was in the classroom "helping". ("DYLAN! You can hit me, but not anyone else, okay?" NO! NOBODY GETS TO HIT!) Needless to say, she didn't stay long. Within a few months, I'd found her a place at another center, one that seemed a lot more structured and curriculum based. Less running, less throwing toys and no one espousing the virtues of physical violence. It is at this center that I was very briefly employed.

It's hard to know where to start. I like to think that I'm at least a little more careful than the average consumer. I check reviews for big purchases. But like a total dumbass, I let a nice lady (who, despite briefly being my boss, I still feel is a nice lady, albeit with a heart-attack inducing job) lead me down a corridor of brightly colored classrooms with happy looking children in them, use big educational type words and thought, "Wow, I want the Prawn to go HERE!" Of course, I now know that anyone who uses the word "curriculum" in conjunction with "pre-schoolers" has a bridge somewhere that they're trying to sell me because, even at the best of times, anyone under the age of five is truly one step from swinging through trees and flinging their own excrement at other people. (And that's my kids included. Don't think for a second that just because I love them that I believe my children to immune to shaved monkey behavior.)

My growing list of "people who need a slap" expanded once more in the short 5 days of my employment to include, "whoever made up the licensing regulation that stipulates that all children, even those 4 or 5 years of age, must be kept still and silent on a naptime cot for TWO WHOLE HOURS in the afternoon." The only explanation I can come up with is that the person or committee has never actually MET a 4 or 5 year old and so would not be aware that the only way to keep a child in this age bracket ANYWHERE for that long is to use nails. And even then, they'd have to be really BIG nails. The teachers in the center live in fear of those two hours because it is a non-stop battle of wills between frustrated and bored children and equally frustrated teachers, BOTH of whom would really, really like naptime to be over.

My shift began at the very start of these two witching hours and I provide breaks for the exhausted lead teachers. I was, on my first day, dumped headfirst and solo into nap time with little warning of what to expect. (Do you know how hard it is to keep the peace in a room where you don't know the children's names? Oh, yeah.) There were, of course, the obligatory 3 boys that desperately needed to be separated who I spent an entire hour telling over and over again that they needed to be respectful of their friends who were trying to get some sleep. (Oh, did I mention the happy, clappy discipline policy? Apparently, the "IF YOU DON'T SHUT YOUR SMART MOUTH, I WILL SHUT IT FOR YOU" method is NOT an approved style. )

The discipline style has a name, although I won't mention it as I don't exactly want to draw attention to this little diatribe from the wrong quarters, but lets just say that it involves "choices". And it's supposed to work something like this:

-Timmy is 4 years old and 4 year olds are insane, so he's standing on top of a table. First, one gives a statement of fact.

"Timmy, I see that you've climbed up on the table."

-The second step is to attach a totally made up and preferably totally understandable reason as to why the child has performed this unacceptable behavior. (This goes for really heinous crap like hitting and biting too) This is called "Positive Intent" and it is meant to show the child that they are not a bad person, but someone who has made a bad decision. Luckily, a group of Timmy's friends are playing on the other side of the library cart.

"You must have wanted to see what your friends were doing on the other side of the library cart."

-The third step is an explanation as to why the child needs to knock the behavior the hell off.

"Climbing up onto the table isn't safe because you could fall and hurt yourself or someone else."

-The fourth step is to guide the child into a positive alternative, even though they'd really like to keep standing on the table, thanks very much.

"Let's come down and see what your friends are doing on the other side of the library cart! Maybe you can join in whatever game they're playing."

Now, on the surface, this sounds like a reasonable strategy. Re-direction, at least, is a good weapon in any parent's arsenal. (Along with beer.) However, when dealing with 17 4 year olds intent on destruction of person, property and emotional well-being, you do not have time to use 4 disciplinary steps when just, "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, TIMMY, GET OFF THE FUCKING TABLE!" will suffice, because, at the same time, you also need to deal with Aiden and Markus who are in housekeeping hitting each other with ironing boards. This form of discipline takes time. And with that many children, there is no time.

This brings me to my biggest concern which was the sheer volume of children in the Prawn's classroom. While most public school classrooms are severely overcrowded, the children within them are older and are expected to have at least some small vestige of impulse control.

One of the only interesting bits of information in my week long training session included the fact that humans exist in three different states of being: Survival, Emotional and Executive. In Survival Mode, (rather obviously) we are concerned with whether or not we are going to last out the day. (Am I Safe?) In Emotional Mode, we are concerned with how we feel. (Am I Loved?) The Executive State is where we make decisions and do our learning. Apparently, humans are not fully capable of functioning in Executive Mode until the age of 24, so this certainly explains that time that I drank so much in college that I threw up in somebody's flower bed.

My point is that one should avoid putting one person in charge of 17 individuals that spend all of their time in Survival/Emotional Mode because truly, we're not just talking about no education taking place, but putting children in a situation where perhaps the answer to "Am I Safe?" is "No". During my week at training, 3 teachers at the center called in sick 2 days in a row. This resulted in the 3, 4 and 5 year olds (The Prawn being one of them) being combined into one class of 20 with one teacher looking after all of them. (A really quite gross violation of State licensing laws.)

I brought it up with the center manager when I got back, although it felt a little odd to be dancing the line between being a loyal employee and a concerned parent. "I wish I could say that this kind of thing won't happen again in the future, but it probably will," she said. "I certainly can't go to somebody's house and drag them into work, no matter how much I might want to." And while I realize that this was entirely true, it certainly had a lot to do with both my decision not to continue on there and to take the Prawn out as well.

I took the job to feel that I was being of some use. If I had to leave my children for 6 hours a day, I wanted my job to mean something. But it was obvious that the entirety of my job was to be based around being an assistant warden rather than an assistant teacher. 99% of what I did and what I would have continued to do in the future was scolding children who were a) committing a terrible act, b) committing the same terrible act for the 165th time or c) about to commit a TOTALLY NEW terrible act because they'd gotten tired of the first one. You can imagine my state of mind by the time I got home each evening, every nerve frayed and STILL had two children at home who are completely capable of committing terrible acts of their own to deal with.

I still feel a lot of guilt over my decision. I'm not the kind of person who quits a new job (especially one that's taken so bloody long to get) in a week, especially one that I was so enthusiastic about to begin with. Not only that, but I've removed the Prawn from her social network, familiar friends and teachers who she liked very much. (She'll be starting in a new and very acclaimed center in June) But at the end of the day, I suppose parenthood is like that; doing what's best even though it can be shitty. What I do know is that I don't wake up with a ball of lead in my stomach, knowing that I have to leave my kids to face another afternoon of shouting for a very low wage.

I DO wake up thinking, "What interesting things can we do today?"