I think I can finally write about it without being driven back under the duvet in an attempt to block out the world.
This is the main reason for my utter, utter despair over the past few months. Not the only reason, of course, but the biggest one – and the one that has made everything else feel a million times worse.
The Demon Child is a cute, chubby-cheeked, 3-year-old girl who attends the pre-school run on the premises of the school I work for. Unlike her companions, she is not picked up by her parents after lunch, but has to stay there until her dad is free to collect her around 4 or 5. In her defence, that can’t be very nice. The parents are super-busy with their careers, and she doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with them. She has to watch all her classmates being taken home, one by one, until she is left alone in the quiet schoolroom with her teacher. She’s confused and sad and wants her mummy. I understand all of this.
But OH HOLY JUMPING CATFISH, that girl makes me want to curl up sobbing in a ball and never see another child again for as long as I live.
I was really excited about working at the school’s kindergarten, but it didn’t turn out at all as I expected. Because my mornings are all full, they slotted me in for two afternoons a week, meaning that I arrive just after all the other children have gone home.The Czech teacher is also there. Two of us, babysitting this one child. However, I must say that before the Demon Child, there were two other girls in their final weeks at the pre-school, and I had a lovely time with them, just hanging out, playing games, singing songs, and doing arts and crafts. We all enjoyed ourselves, and the girls quickly started to pick up English from our time together.
This child, however, is determined to hate everything about life.
I walk in the door, and she cries. I speak to her (even in Czech) and she cries. We take her to the playground, and she sulks in a corner. We try numerous projects and activities with her, and she whines. Sometimes you can see her getting drawn into an activity and starting to enjoy herself, and then there’s that moment when she catches herself on and remembers she must make everyone miserable, so she starts crying or whining again for absolutely no reason.
I have tried everything. I’ve brought toys, games, and sweets. I’ve sat on my own building a Lego castle or painting a picture, trying to encourage her to join in of her own free will. The Czech teacher and I have played simple children’s games together, making a big show of having fun, in the hope that she will see what a good time she could be having if she would just stop trying to punish us for her being there. I’ve tried following her around like a devoted puppy dog, and I’ve tried ignoring her, and I’ve tried being kind, and I’ve tried being strict, and I’ve tried comforting her, and I’ve tried speaking sharply to her, and I’ve tried pretending I don’t notice her whining, keeping up a pretence of unreciprocated cheeriness that takes me to the brink of insanity. None of it works.
One particularly horrific day, the Czech teacher left me alone with her so she could go to a doctor’s appointment. It was possibly the most traumatic afternoon I’ve ever had in my life. She screamed and screamed and screamed as if I was beating her up, and none of my above approaches made any difference. When I tried the ignoring method, she shoved her hand in her mouth and forced herself to gag in an attempt to make herself sick. I was panic-stricken when she started turning a weird colour, and eventually yelled furiously at her at the top of my voice, which shocked her into stopping but didn’t make any difference to the screaming and crying. I even found the Teletubbies in Czech for her on Youtube on my phone, and found myself actually choking back feelings of pure hatred when I saw her laughing in delight at it, suddenly remembering she wasn’t supposed to be happy, and forcing herself to cry again, throwing my phone to the floor.
I can’t deal with her. I can’t. I love children, and most of the kids I’ve taught have come running to me for big hugs, with excited greetings and requests for games or songs. Even the children who’ve been “problem” ones were never anything I couldn’t deal with through a change in tactics or with a little help from a colleague. And none of them looked at me with pure, undisguised loathing in their eyes. No, she doesn’t speak English… but neither have any of the others, and it has never brought about this kind of pure hatred and hysteria.
The moment I broke down in tears during my end-of-trial-period interview with my director of studies was when I talked about the Demon Child. I was mortified and horrified, but once the tears started, they wouldn’t stop. I’m just not qualified to do this, I bawled unprofessionally, doing that huh-huh-huh gasping thing you do when you’re trying your hardest to stop crying and speak normally. Some days I go in and literally just sit there quietly in a corner, trying my best not to catch her eye in case it sets her off. It’s not teaching; it’s not even babysitting! It’s an endurance test, and it’s not benefitting anyone. I’m a teacher, not a child psychologist. I want to teach. Take this away from me and I don’t care if you replace it with several advanced level classes of adults – whatever. At least I would be working.
Apparently there was nothing they could do.
The Czech teacher called me last Wednesday to say that I didn’t need to go in the next day, as the child would be away on holidays – and I swear, the difference it made to my Thursday morning teaching at the big school had to be seen to be believed. I was happy, enthusiastic, and energetic instead of my usual bad-tempered self with the sword of Demon Child hanging over my head. I don’t care how melodramatic this sounds: a three-year-old has been ruining my life.
I decided to just stop trying. Go in, read a book, wash the dishes, sweep the floor. The CELTA really paid off. I’m fecking Cinderella, only she didn’t have to look after a Demon Child.
I can continue in the same manner, because it makes not a hair of difference one way or the other, and I’m getting paid for it regardless – but as I tried to explain to both my DoS and the Czech teacher, I don’t want to be paid for nothing. It is mind-numbing, demeaning, demoralising, and depressing. Sure, I would have to work harder and prepare lessons and suchlike if they gave me actual classes in place of this, but that’s my job, and it’s what I want to do. I want to work, not to be forced to spend time counting down the minutes somewhere I’m not needed, and where my presence is actually making things worse. The child hates my existence, and she’s doing her best to ensure the feeling is mutual. I cannot for the life of me understand why they’re continuing to keep me there. I suppose they have to say there’s an English speaker there at all times, for advertising purposes… but I assure you that absolutely no English is being taught or learned. All that’s happening is screaming.
Oh, the screaming.
I actually had a dream last week where the class was taken off my schedule, and I woke up so ecstatically happy that I practically felt the world crashing down around my shoulders when I realised it wasn’t real. My one ray of hope came today, when my DoS approached me to say “something’s in the pipeline”, so I should “hang in there”… perhaps escape is imminent, I don’t know. Maybe the universe/school is going to reward me for picking myself up and working my way back towards being upbeat and positive?
Damn, I really thought I could make this amusing and entertaining, but I can’t! Too much resentment, frustration, and despair. Honestly, things I would rather do than spend those 3 hours with that child twice a week now include:
- 3 hours of hard labour, like breaking concrete blocks in a prison yard, or picking fruit in 40-degree heat
- drink a full carton of that vile acid buttermilk
- watch my unrequited love enjoying a sickeningly romantic date
- let my cat scratch and bite me
- hike up a mountain
- teach for a full day while horrifically hungover
I’m not even joking about any of those.
And so, fingers crossed that I am indeed about to see my recent more positive attitude paying off, in the form of this twice-weekly torture ending soon! If anyone has any tips about how to handle this sort of situation, feel free to share them, because I’m out of ideas. Just don’t – DON’T!!! – start telling me she’s probably got a difficult home life and emotional problems and blah-blah-blah – like I said at the start, I already acknowledge all that, and feel sorry for her if she does, but it doesn’t change how absolutely impossible her behaviour is, or how deeply it makes me want to head for the hills and become a hermit in a remote cave. Alright?!