When I got the call from the school system for a temporary 1-year job, I was strongly inclined to decline. Did I say strongly? Perhaps that word is not emphatic enough. I dearly wanted to scream “Oh, HELL, NO!” and slam the phone down, but SwampMan had strongly counseled me that he was not at all happy about my decision to go into business with my ex-daughter-in-law doing children’s rooms. He had a point in that in the middle of a bad recession/beginning of a depression like this, there are not many people thinking about paying for people to decorate their children’s rooms, so just get over it.
So, I didn’t follow my first inclination of slamming down the telephone and running and hiding under the bed so they couldn’t come find me. I called SwampMan (big mistake) and told him about the job offer and my reservations about it.
“This is going to be a *very* bad job. Any time the ratio of staff to students is less than 1:10, that is a bad, bad sign. Here, the ratio is damn near 1:1.”
“Quit whining and take it. They’re in what, 4th or 5th grade? How bad could THAT be? Besides, what other paying jobs are available?”
How bad could it be? Maybe he was right. Maybe they were all little angels that just needed 1:1 staffing because…..umm……well, I couldn’t think of a good reason. I already knew from last year’s foray into kindergarten that children are highly protected but the staff is on their own. And there will be hell to pay if any of the little darlings that are attacking tooth and nail sustain a bruise while they make spirited attempts to break somebody’s finger. If there is an effective technique to ensure compliance, we can’t use it. If the children are out of control, then it is our fault and we did something wrong, and we better search our conscience for what it was.
Children, especially children that have cognitive problems, are very quick to learn that they can run wild and act like fools and kick and hit and spit and bite and the teachers cannot do anything about it.
I was, therefore, not terribly surprised on the first day when I was slapped, pinched hard twice, had a toy shovel of sand thrown in my face on the playground, and turned around just in time to catch a chair that was aimed at my head, thrown by a little cherub in time out who had no earthly reason to throw it at me except I was in her line of sight and had my head turned away.
I told SwampMan that I was going to be in the ER before the week was out because ALL the children bit, hit, scratched, and threw heavy objects with intent to harm. When they are not trying to harm each other, they try to hurt us and, in fact, we are the preferential targets because they know that their classmates will kick, hit, scratch, bite and throw chairs BACK. We cannot. He did not believe it.
The second day, I was standing beside a student when his crayons were flung violently across the room. When I reflexively looked over to see if anybody had been hurt by flying crayons, Cujo the crayon thrower latched onto my arm and bit the crap out of it, removing a chunk of skin and some flesh, grinding in his rabbit sharp teeth and powerful jaws in order to do the most damage. I waited until he finished, then I spun him around and pinned his arms behind his back to keep from getting pummeled and bitten further and waited out the kicking over of desks, shelves, anything within reach of his feet, and the backwards head butting that ensued. After the brief period of insane rage had passed, he was back to normal. I went to the office for wound dressing so I wouldn’t bleed all over the classroom.
Later that day, I was back in the office for another wound dressing for a more severe bite. This one necessitated a trip to an ER clinic after work where I was asked the breed of the dog that bit me.
The next day was fairly uneventful with just routine scratching, pinching and kicking incidents for me. Another woman was head butted in the face and cut the inside of her lips on her teeth. There was not a lot of learning going on, but no major mayhem, either (which erupts when the kids are pressed to do anything) for which I was happy. I *say* no major mayhem; the woman with the cut lip was definitely injured but no teeth were knocked loose which, in our class, was considered a good day.
On Friday, the day started out with another rage incident in which I prevented “my” student from maiming another much smaller student, a girl, who had apparently touched her foot against his under the table. The first I knew that anything was amiss was when his milk was thrown violently across the room and I had a heavy metal chair thrown at my head (ha, missed!) and again savagely bitten up and down my arm (this time I had padding on my arms because they were still oozing and swollen from the last bites). He managed to bite through in one spot near my wrist drawing quite a bit of blood that soaked through the padding, kicked, and, when I had him stretched out with his arms behind his back so that he could no longer reach me with teeth, fists, or feet, sustained repeated head butts to the chest. (Shopping note: I need to buy *very* heavily padded bras instead of the athletic variety. I have bruises y’all wouldn’t believe! You know everybody’s going to be talkin’ ’bout how I done went and got a boob job if I suddenly turn up in a double D size and how the schools must be paying their employees waaaay too much. The reality is that I can barely afford livestock feed, gas, and groceries on my salary.) SwampMan tells me I’m working for the insurance. I told him I wouldn’t need the insurance if I weren’t working!
I will count any day as successful now when I don’t have to report to the ER. Another woman in class had the misfortune to be working with one student when another tapped her for attention. When she turned, she was headbutted in the nose and had to be driven to the emergency clinic for a possible broken nose.
Why are the kids so frustrated? Well, they have severe communication problems. (They either can’t talk at all, babble things that make no sense, or only have the capacity for 1 or 2 word sentences, the vocabularly of an 18-month-old child.) When they want something and we don’t understand what it is, they attack. When they are mad at another kid, they attack. If their mom packed something in their lunch they didn’t want, they attack. Often we don’t know why for there are no antecendents for this behavior that we know of and for every incident, we have to painstakingly go back and try to find why. (As you may have guessed, there is a LOT of paperwork.) Maybe they have a tummy ache. We just don’t know. These are children that are happy and smiling one instant and biting the crap out of somebody (me) the next.
I have to be constantly on my guard because the child I’m assigned to is, in my estimation, quite capable of severely injuring one of the students or other adults in one of his rages. I guesstimate his weight at @ 150 lbs., and it is quite difficult to get him under control without causing him pain or leaving bruises. When he comes back to his senses, he cries when he sees my bleeding wounds, says “bite” pointing to my wound(s), and hangs his head, tears streaming down his face, and then kisses the booboo, hugs me, and asks “better?” anxiously. Of course I hug him and reassure him that I am just fine now and that the kiss fixed me right up but if he feels mad, he needs to go off by himself or tell me “mad” or show me “mad face” instead of biting.
I’m considering getting leather or metal wrist guards and kevlar carving gloves because he’s avoiding the padding now and trying to take out the fingers and wrists.