It took me by surprise. I'd arrived at work early, having enjoyed a sunny stroll from the tube station and then bam. You can't fault their stealth moves. They hide their digs and comments behind fake smiles and niceness, but if I'm honest this has been coming on for months, since the new Preschool team started. And suddenly I'm in the way. It's weird how none of the other Toddler classes have an issue with me, nor did any of the other previous Preschool teams.
Anyhoo, so the new Manager tells me: 'Wouldn't it be nice if you had music class outside today, while the weather's so nice.' Subtext: You're in the way. We don't want you in the classroom. So, again, I was a little blind sighted, but I could work with that. So I replied with an, 'I guess that would be okay, as long as I can find a way to get the CD player out there and it doesn't affect the other children's outdoor play.' Then she told me - and this is the smackeroo, the kick in the teeth, or in this case more a dagger in the heart or a corkscrew through my stomach - 'You see, you're disrupting the development of the other children not doing music class.'
Now can we just pause for a moment and dissect just how nasty that is. And how personal that is. I, personally, am responsible for the downward development of members of the Preschool that do not do music class. Wow. That is some nasty shit right there.
Now if we could put that into perspective. I do three classes of half an hour each in the Prechool on a Wednesday morning. Only on a Wednesday morning. The classes are not back to back, I start the early class at 9am when a lot of children still haven't arrived yet, then I leave for an hour to teach the two Toddler classes, and when I return I have two classes back to back. Also, there are only about five children who don't take part in one of the music classes and they have four members of staff in that room. Yet, I am disrupting their development. Irrelevant of the fact that I'm also improving or at least aiding the development of all 20 children in the Preschool music classes. And the only reason I have so many classes is demand from the parents.
I - understandably - went on the defensive and was about to launch into one, but all I got out was that, this is my job and I have been there for three years and.......before a parent arrived and we were cut off. But I lost something right there and then. I lost respect for that Manager. I lost respect for the whole Preschool team who could have come to me and discussed something like actual human beings, but instead chose to talk behind my back and act all smiles to my face. I also lost a little piece of my love for the job - but don't worry, I found it again later.
I allowed myself two minutes to breathe and get past the initial shock and then, as I had arrived early I went through to the Preschool room to see if there was any way I could be less "disruptive". They were sweeping up the shitty floor outside in the garden - not actual shit but so dusty and dirty and bleak - where they expected me to sit and teach the kids, and I just thought wow, that's how much they respect me and what I do. They think I should be shoved out of the classroom into a shitty corner of the garden, like I mean nothing and my work means nothing. They weren't even going to offer me a blanket or sheet to sit on. I mean throw me a frickin' bone here.
Calmly, I surveyed the situation, quickly summing up that of course there were no plug sockets outside, so how the hell was I going to play any music? Do they think I can do a music class without music? Do they think that's fair to the kids? Oh sorry kids, we're not doing dancing today because we've been shoved outside and your teachers think my class is a pile of crap.
Again, calmly, I asked if they had an extension lead. I mean, they've obviously had this in the works for a while now. Where can we boot Helen to? So why did they not think about something as simple as a feckin' extension lead. No they don't have one long enough. Well then, fuck you. They just thought they could throw me outside, shut the door and have done with it.
But I just kept looking at this dirty space they wanted me to teach in and that's when I felt the tears coming and I knew that I needed to get out before anyone saw me. I managed to make it to reception before I lost it, so only the receptionist saw me. I sobbed out a garbled 'I just need a minute,' and walked out, hiding myself, first behind a tree and then further around the corner, in case any parents came to drop their kids off.
That really upset me - and it still does now as I sit on a bench on my lunch break jotting this down to be typed up later. And it still does now as I'm sat at home typing it up. I mean, maybe I'm being soft about the whole thing, but it's my livelihood and I just felt myself unravelling. I've been teaching under fives and charting their development for over a decade, whether in a full time teaching capacity, or as a part time music teacher. To be told I was disrupting the development of any child was a low blow with a sharp blade.
I kept telling myself to stop crying, even though I knew I deserved that moment to cry and just let out all the crap I was feeling. But I didn't want them to see me and I had a class starting in five minutes. One thing I would never do is allow this to affect the children. So I held the rest in, put on my stoic face and went back in. The receptionist - who I must add here is lovely and always has a chat with me - asked me if I was alright. I told her I was fine, picked up my stuff and went through to Preschool, still thinking I'd be teaching in the garden.
However, when I arrived, with the children greeting me and clinging on to my arms and legs, you know, the usual greeting for Miss Helen, I was told that I could teach in the classroom today because of the CD player situation. I was then asked by one of the staff if I'd be doing dancing? I mean, thick doesn't even come close. She's been there for months, has seen my classes so many times. As if she was questioning whether I would actually be using the CD player or that I'd used it as an excuse to stay inside. Wow, I'm just feeling the love teachers. Thanks. So I crept back in to my corner and taught my lesson, ignoring the false smiles and undertones between teachers, and focused on my kids.
It's amazing how five lovely music classes can almost make you forget how shit you felt at 8.45am this morning. In fact, I mentioned earlier that I lost a piece of my love for this job, but that I also regained it. Here's a few reasons why:
- Children know things. They are sensitive to emotions and feelings of adults and other children, even if you think you're hiding them. I received more hugs and kisses today - all initiated by them - and the best behaviour and listening I've had from them in a long time. They knew. They knew I needed that and I needed those cuddles. Definitely an upside of working with kids.
- Today I persuaded a child obsessed with the colour orange, to the extent that he cries if he doesn't get an orange instrument or spot or dancing scarf, to not only choose another colour, but also to smile and dance with us. This was no small feat! We scrunched our scarves into balls and throw them up in the air. And he even asked if he could stand next to me and so we danced side by side.
- Also in my final class of the day, the children were so sweet. They sit on coloured spots during my lessons, and when we collect them in they pretend they have a purpose or they are an object or animal. In my final class, the children gave me a castle, a house, a museum about Dinosaurs, with a huge Dinosaur egg, and the final kid said his spot was a lawnmower - very handy for those castle grounds and the garden in my house - and a digger and drill for home improvements. And if that didn't make me smile enough, I was showered with more hugs, a kiss on the hand from one of the boys and just all the love! I don't think they'll ever realise what that meant to me today and how that made me feel. The little superstars.
So then I just had to get out of there, manoeuvring around a few: Are you okay Helen? comments from staff and avoiding the Manager for fear of an outburst. But you know, as I was walking out I thought, right, you don't want me in your classroom, then prepare for the greatest outdoor music classes you've ever seen. You can beat me and I'll fall down, I might even snot cry, but I'll always get back up. You don't get rid of Miss Helen that easily.