They know-- all twenty of my kids know, to some extent-- that something is wrong. Puji hands down terrible punishments, winds them up, abuses them emotionally, and then takes out her anger on them again when they come to me looking for a moment of random affection. I'm a big believer in discipline and order, and the kids know that. They test me, but they know I'm not heartless. I give them boundaries because I care about them; Puji doles out disproportionate punishments for the slightest misstep. (For instance, today she refused to let three of the kids go outside because they did not fall asleep right away at nap time. On Monday, she wouldn't let two of them have icecream because they answered questions wrong on their worksheets.) Understandably, the kids slink around Puji trying to avoid her attention, and will walk right past her on their way to me if they're upset about something, or need a dispute solved. And they know when Puji's been on my case, even if she doesn't berate me in front of them (and she does-- often). With some, its as simple as coming and brushing up against me or tugging on my braid on their way to find a toy. With others, the aggitation is more obvious. Sahri comes and hangs on me, Gideon gets a toy and sits at my feet to play like he's some sort of guard dog. Skye compliments me excessively, Alexa asks if she can come home with me.
I may never have had children of my own, but I recognize what these actions really communicate. The kids are asking, Is it okay, is everything okay?
I try to make myself smile, unstiffen my posture, sit on the floor and play with them and just ignore the adult world. I ruffle hair, fuss with buttons and hems, squeeze tiny shoulders. Yes, I keep trying to say, everything is fine. I plan art projects and try to make things okay.
Meanwhile, Puji assigns three to five worksheets a day for a group of children who are, at their oldest, four and a half. She refuses to touch any of them except her own child (yes, her daughter is in our class-- long story, and not a pretty one), withholds food for 'bad behavior', tells children to 'go away' if they come up to her with something to share. She and another coworker of mine (who is also a friend), Joy, have been having conflicts and arguements lately. Joy's daughter, Seline, is in our class. Rather than separate Seline from the problems she has with Joy, Puji takes out her anger on Seline. If I leave the room to run an errand, nine out of ten times I return to find Seline on the floor crying, with Puji standing over her. What's happened in the time I've been gone? There's no way of knowing-- Seline won't say, Puji can't be trusted, and Puji knows enough to drag the child out of view of the cameras before doing whatever it is, so Joy hasn't been able to figure it out by watching the webcam.
I'm not saying I'm a perfect teacher. I'm not even saying I'm a good one-- I get stressed, I fail to keep my emotions from showing on my face, I raise my voice more than I probably should. But I would *never* with hold all of outdoor play, or food from a child, and I would never deliberately exploit their emotional weak spots. Not to mention the fact I have training and experience in education, and know that the worksheets we do (not to mention the *amount* we do) are way above the kid's heads? And how sad is it that the kids come to me for affection when I'm not, in fact, a cuddly person?
When all this came to a head in the office, the director told me I could suck it up and accept Puji's position as lead teacher, or she'd "be happy to accept my two weeks notice". "Don't think you're doing us any favors by working here," she said.
"Don't worry," I said, looking at the woman who has done nothing but lie to me from the moment I walked in the door back in August. "I know you can easily find someone much less qualified to replace me."
It's like living in an abusive relationship. All you want to do is get out, but you know you can't just shove your precious things and a change of clothes into a bag and run out into the rainy night. Where would you go, what would you do? I am the wife that moves soundlessly in the kitchen, brow-beaten but counting pennies in her mind, making her plans.
I realize a lot of this sounds overly dramatic, but that's what it's like to wake up every goddamn day and know I have to go in there, and be afraid to miss or take sick because I don't want to leave those kids alone with her. In May, Seline and Gideon (Puji's other frequent victim) move up to the next class. I hope to have a job lined up by then.
And this is why I've been hesitant to write about what's going on in my life-- I knew it would end up being one big puddle of emotional vomit. Feel free to ignore the above. Rest assured I love and miss you, my friends, and am trying to keep up with what's going on with you. ^__^
Thank you for listening.