The 5 Craziest Things You Learn Working With Kids
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Who wouldn't want to work with kids? You've probably heard that children are our future and/or that they say the craziest things. Plus they are too young to judge you if you show up to work hungover. Well, I was a preschool teacher for years, and let me tell you: It's incredible, while at the same time being absolutely horrible. On the one hand, you're actively affecting and molding the minds of children, which is great. On the other hand, it's one of the most distracting, unpredictable work environments you'll ever be in. Oh, you can try to prepare for everything. You can write all of the detailed lesson plans that you want, but I promise that first thing in the morning, a kid will (metaphorically and sometimes literally) throw up on said plans. See, there are a few things people don't really warn you about jobs in childcare or education. Things like ...
A lot. Puberty isn't the only time people get preoccupied with their changing bodies. It actually happens a lot sooner, when kids become conscious of how they actually have bodies. As a preschool teacher, I walked in on a lot of kids (both male and female) figuring out that touching themselves in a certain place "feels good." Nothing in your whole life will ever prepare you for dealing with this. You spend years being asked "What do you want to be when you grow up?" And at no point does anyone tell you "Hold on. Stop there. The one you just chose involves corralling children and making sure they don't masturbate. Just so you know."
Thankfully it was usually during nap time, but sometimes it would be out in the open, because little kids truly don't give a fuck about what people think. This left me with the unfortunate task of having to explain to the kids to not do that at school (in a way that didn't scar them for the rest of their life or make them think masturbating was bad, which, holy hell, that's a lot of pressure). Then I had to bring it up with their parents when they came to pick them up. You can imagine how fun that was. One of the worst conversations I ever had with a parent involved me having to tell them that little Bobby tended to spend nap time jacking it when he thought no one was looking. Mom didn't take that well at all. And how could she? "You know your precious child? The little kid who loves pizza and marathons of Dinotrux? Well, here's the thing ..."
Oh, and mutual masturbation was a thing too. A horrifying, horrifying thing. I've ... I've seen terrible stuff. You don't know, MAN, you weren't there.
You Will Encounter Kids Who Are Irreversibly Terrible
Have you ever watched the news, heard about some person doing some wildly illegal and/or crazy shit, and wondered what they must have been like as a kid? Maybe you think, "If I had been in charge of that little asshole, I would have done something!" But can you really do anything? That's something that never really occurred to me until I worked with children, specifically a child whom we'll call Kevin. Because we need to talk about Kevin.
Kevin had issues. I don't mean he was a troublemaker, or that he was just annoying to be around. Kevin had tendencies that went beyond "Dennis the Menace" and right into "The first five minutes of Halloween." Here's a quick recap of the things I noticed in the short amount of time I spent with Kevin. He got sadistic pleasure out of hurting other kids and would laugh when he saw someone else in pain. He physically attacked teachers on a regular basis. Trying to discipline him was a useless endeavor. He'd also do really weird shit like just stare at the wall during nap time and say he was "busy" every time we asked him what he was doing. This wasn't a normal child. And trust me, that's not an accusation you throw around lightly. You can watch a child eat a dead moth and still think "Yep. Typical."
We mentioned all the warning signs to his parents, who nervously played down every single one, of course. The more it happened, the more we tried to talk to them about it. But they constantly made excuses, at one point even trying to turn it around on us: "He doesn't act like this at home!" BullSHIT he didn't. They were clearly terrified of him, as evidenced by the time I saw him punch his mother hard in the stomach and she just laughed nervously. But they needed a scapegoat and a reason to sweep it under the rug, and my bosses forced me to leave it alone.
Kevin's family eventually ended up moving, and sometimes I think about him. How's he going to turn out? I obviously can't tell the future, so I have no idea, but I worry anyway. Maybe he eventually got people around him who could help. Maybe nothing can be done and whatever happens in his life is inevitable. I don't know. But if years from now, if I turn on the news and see his grown-up face over a headline saying "Man carjacks Pizza Hut delivery boy and takes a dump on the floor of the Mall of America," I'm going to be pissssssssed. Not surprised, but pissed.
Prepare To Get Groped
This is an actual exchange that happened in a preschool classroom, while I was explaining an art project to a roomful of kids:
Me: "So that's all you need to do. Now, before we start, are there any questions?"
Child: "Why are your boobies so big?"
Me: "... I meant are there any questions about the project."
*everyone shakes their head no*
Me: "OK, let's get to work!"
Children are driven by curiosity and a sense of exploration, destined to Columbus their way across a sea of good manners and find a continent of pure awkwardness. They want to learn everything they can about the world they live in, and that includes touching grownups' weird bodies, especially grownups they feel comfortable with. That dude who stands waaay too close to you on public transportation? Imagine 20 of those dudes, and they all come up to your hip. Of course there's nothing sexual about it, so all I do is gently pull them away while explaining why that type of touching is inappropriate. Then there are the children young enough that their mothers are still breastfeeding them. They get hungry and, well, dive right in. Boobs are boobs, right?
Speaking of diving in: One day I was wearing a dress that was shorter than I realized, and while I was sitting down in a chair and had my head turned to the side talking to a kid, another little boy dove in between my legs and Eskimo-kissed my crotch. I SCREAMED and threw him off me like he was a spider, which of course meant I had to explain why I shoved him so hard and why he should never do that again. It was a terrible conversation. Again, at no point in your life are you taught how to prepare for this. There is no etiquette class that teaches you the proper reaction. You can't My Fair Lady your way out of a response that is anything but horror.
The idea of being physically accosted by a child sounds ludicrous at first, but I don't think people realize how strong some kids actually are, especially compared to someone small like me. I was once knocked to the ground by a very large kindergartner (who just wanted to playfully wrestle), and at first I was like, "Wow, you got me!" But then I tried to get up and realized I couldn't. Homie was sitting on my stomach holding both my arms down and I couldn't get out of his hold, and the other kids, thinking I was still playing along with him, started jumping in and hopping on me. Luckily, there was another teacher in the classroom who ran over and shooed them off. So the lesson here is that when you're around kids, any moment could potentially turn into the Thunderdome. Good luck.
Parents And Teachers Hooking Up Is A Given
This isn't something I ever did myself. (I promise I'm not on a high horse. The truth is that I didn't find anyone attractive enough to risk losing my job over.) But this is a thing, and much more common than the average person may realize. After all, even single parents have needs, and if you spend enough time with another adult, you might start finding them physically attractive, like finally liking that Taylor Swift song the hundredth time you hear it, or whenever someone claims to enjoy candy corn. If the feeling's mutual, you're very likely to see the other person naked. If it turns into a permanent thing, hey, you've already got the "introducing them to the kids" problem out of the way. And when they get older, you just have to have an uncomfortable conversation about the boning.
Still, pretty much everybody was smart enough to keep it on the down-low, because children talk. If a kid mentioned to one of their friends "I saw teacher leaving Daddy's bedroom in funny-looking underwear" in front of the director or admins, then that teacher will soon say bye-bye to her job. This almost happened to a co-worker who was trying to sneak out of a parent's house super early in the morning to avoid running into the kids. Because life is more like a sitcom than we will ever truly realize, of course she almost ran smack into one of said children, who was heading to the bathroom for an early morning tinkle. The teacher dived behind a wall and waited until the kid entered the bathroom before tiptoeing her ass out of that house. Luckily the child was too sleepy to notice her. Or maybe he did and was just minding his own business. If it was the latter, good on you, kid. Respect.
You'll Forget You're Not The Parent Of Those Kids
Taking care of young children is an odd gig, if you haven't realized it by now. You usually spend between eight to ten hours a day with these kids, starting from when they're as young as six months old if the preschool is also a childcare center, like mine was. You might spend more time with them than their parents. You teach them everything, from how to speak to how to read to how to play with other kids. You feed them, toilet-train them, hold them in your arms during nap time to help soothe them to sleep. You wipe their tears and talk to them about their tiny little-people hopes and dreams. You grow to love these children like they're your own blood. But they're not your blood, and you hand them off to their parents by 6 p.m. every day before you go home.
We can sometimes forget that this handoff is the ending of a transaction. The parent is a customer, and you're just someone doing a job. And trust me, those parents will be quick to throw that in your face the first time a kid calls you "mom" in front of their actual mom. Believe me, hell hath no fury like a guilty mother. No matter how emotionally invested you get in those kids, to the parents and the administrators, you are essentially the help.
Despite the fact that I've always loved kids, I was never driven to be a mother, so that disconnect, though jarring, didn't really bother me that much. But I've seen teachers really messed up by it. Basically, they forget their place and start telling the parents what they think the child's needs are, how they should be raised, what foods they should be eating, and more. They think they're right because they've put in so much goddamn time with that kid and they end up thinking that they know the kids better than anyone else. But that parent who spent all day at work would almost always prefer to be spending that time with their kid, and is already feeling horrible about putting their kid in this program to begin with. They are not about to put up with some uppity teacher lording the fact that they noticed little Tina's gluten allergy first over them. And if you pursue it, it's going to turn into an ugly dick-measuring contest, and teachers are the ones who are going to lose.
It's still better than the mutual masturbation thing, though. There's not enough alcohol in the world to scrub my mind clean of that. And there never will be.
When not getting beat up by children, Archie Grimm also writes for Black Girl Nerds, and is the only millennial still trying to figure out Twitter. Feel free to school her here.
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