Jan 29, 2014

Memoirs of a Teenage Daycare Teacher: 7 (or possibly 8) years later

To give a 17-19 year old the care of your children probably seems ridiculous, but that's how it was. When I was 18 I could be in charge of 4 under 1s up to 28 school aged kids (6-10 year olds). I'm not sure how it was for other daycares, but the turnover rate for teachers at SBA was high, which lead me to being assigned to the 3 year olds just after my high school graduation. I don't think anyone will mistake working in a daycare as a glamorous job. I dealt with vomit, dirty diapers, scrapped knees, fights over toys, kids not eating, and illnesses that most adults don't get (including scabies, pink eye, and strep throat)--I even had snotty noses wiped on my pants. I struggled to get some kids to sleep at nap time, then spent half of those two hours cleaning up from lunch, just to have to clean up again after snack time when the kids woke up. I was a human jungle gym. I was in charge of 10-12 3 year olds on a regular basis, and I loved them. So much so that when I quit to go to college, I cried at the thought of leaving them.

So, no, my first job was not glamorous or enviable at all, but it was rewarding. Some days. A lot of time I felt like I was making up it as I went--which I probably was because I was only 18 and had very little experience with kids beyond the infrequent babysitting I had done in my early teens. I had kids with behavioral problems--probably from being sent to a daycare for 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. There was a boy, 4 years old, who refused to potty train. A 9 month old who cried unless he was held. A little boy and his sister who came every day dirty--once he hadn't had a bowel movement or a wet diaper in three days. Parents who sent their kids to daycare sick, causing the other kids (and us teachers) to catch whatever it was they had. Parents who yelled at the teachers for trying to do their jobs; parents who would go to the local bar before picking up their kids.

Then there were my coworkers. When I first started at SBA, I was a "closer," meaning I would do the snack dishes, then clean the bathrooms, mop the floors, vacuum, and take out the trash. The teachers were supposed to be in charge of their own rooms, but sometimes the task fell to us. One day the woman who made lunch had been going very slowly on the clean up, so when I got there at 3 I was sent to help her. She left and I ended up doing all of the lunch dishes, with only a half hour to relax before it was time to start the snack dishes. Standing at a sink for several hours was probably one of the worst days of work I had.

But not everything was horrible. It was so amazing to be so close to kids--I learned so much. Have you ever heard that we must be like a child? That is something that I learned a lot about while working at SBA. Children are so forgiving. I would have someone tell me I was mean and then five minutes later he was hugging me. Children are loving. Children are honest--sometimes brutally so, but it's really just that they will say what they think. One day I walked into my classroom and a little girl, E, came up to me and said, "You look like Cinderella!" I have to admit, I was a little confused, being brunette whereas Cinderella is blonde. Then the other teacher said, "It's the ribbon in your hair." I had put in a blue ribbon that morning! Of course, then there was the one time that I was wearing a high waisted shirt and one of the kids asked if I were pregnant. And then the time when I was told that I needed a boyfriend, because I was "old enough." I was 18. The kids also loved helping. They would help their friends, and me. When I was a closer, I would frequently get the help of one little girl, who wanted to wash the dishes, and get the trash, and vacuum. It's always nice to have a little someone to talk to. There was always a plethora of hugs and kisses. There is really nothing like feeling tiny arms around your neck.

The day after my high school graduation, my boyfriend broke up with me. In an e-mail. It was a pretty hard time, but I went to work everyday and did what I needed to. I wasn't taking any breaks because I knew that if I did I would just break down and wouldn't be able to go back to work. If work is good for anything, it's good for helping you forget yourself for a little while, especially at a daycare. One day near the end of the week, we were taking the kids out to afternoon recess, but first we made a stop at the bathrooms. Not all of our kids were completely potty trained yet, so I had to take one of them, R, back to the classroom to change her diaper while another teacher took the rest of the kids. R's mom had just arrived, and was watching while I completed this task--which is unnerving, and also a little strange. She got upset about the way I did something, and in a huff said, "I'll just do it myself!" It wasn't a big deal, but it was enough to break the dam and despite my best efforts I started to cry. I was told to take a break, so I went into our empty classroom and had a good cry. When the kids came in, they found me, and little A (one of my favorites--even though I know you aren't supposed to have favorites), gave a soft little, "Hey . . ." He just let me hug him, and I really did feel better. Parents are probably the worst part about working child care--worse than all the diapers and vomit. E's mom was especially intimidating: tall, blonde, power woman. I know it's unfair, but I frequently thought "If you don't like the way I'm raising your kids, then stay home and raise them yourself!"

Another thing about working at the daycare is that there was always something funny to tell. The kids would come up with their own jokes (none of which made any sense), or they would just laugh. The laughter of children is infectious. Then, of course, there were the times the kids didn't know they were being funny. I had to open the classroom cupboard up once, and C saw some candy that had been put in there. He proceeded to try and convince me for 10 minutes that the candy belonged to him. "But Miss Widanee!" he'd protest. "My mom brought it from home!"

The summer after my freshman year at university, I went home and worked at SBA again, to earn money for the study abroad I was applying for. That summer was pretty hard. I woke up really early in the mornings to be there when it opened and I usually worked overtime. It was actually really nice to see the kids get dropped off. There was one little boy who had a hard time with his mom leaving, but we finally got to the point where she would just hand him to me and he'd be fine. This same little boy would sometimes sit with me during my lunch break while I worked on homework for my online class. If he didn't, he wouldn't sleep and would cry and wake up the other kids. During the month of July we had all of the school age kids there all day long. Twenty-eight 6 to 10 year olds. That's where I spent most of my summer and it was hectic. We tried to come up with enough activities and field trips to keep them interested, but when it's too hot most days to play outside, and they have to be quiet for two hours to keep from waking the babies up, it's pretty hair raising. The best day of that summer was when we took the school kids to the zoo. Not only did I get paid to go to the zoo, but I was only in charge of three kids instead of 28. And the three I had were some of the most well behaved ones. We ate popsicles, saw the bird show, and rode the train. I like the zoo, but it is so much more fun when you go with kids!

When I wasn't with the school kids, I usually gave the other teachers their breaks, which meant I got to spend time with all the ages. The baby room was fun, because you just got to hold babies, or play with them on the floor. I got pretty good at holding a baby in one arm and making a bottle with my free hand. The next room up, with the 1 year olds, was nice because they were starting to talk and discover the world outside of themselves. One of the older girls in this room once started "races". "1 . . . 2 . . . 10," she'd say, then run across the room. The other kids caught on pretty well. Then there were the 2/3 year olds. They talk and understand a lot more, but still don't quite get the concept of sharing. It's really about this age that they start seeming like "little people." They are so excited to go to the "potty," and do grown up things.

The 3/4 year olds have, usually, been potty trained, which is nice. They can follow instructions better, and are more willing to help. The 4/5 year olds are amazing. I spent quite a bit of time in this room as the principle teacher for about half a summer. After recess we'd sit and read a story and then be able to have a discussion based on the story. One discussion we talked about what they wanted to do when they grew up. It was fun to tell their parents that they wanted to be a nurse like their mom, or a rockstar. One even said she wanted to be a teacher like me! At this age they still took naps, but it was easier to get them all asleep than the younger ages. Basically, it was just fun to see the changes in age, and to watch the kids grow up.

The kids I used to take care of are now between 7 and 17. That's crazy. I don't know where any of them are, what they're doing. Sometimes I think of them and hope that their lives turned out well. Thanks for allowing me this little walk down memory lane. I only wish I could give you a "where are they now" snippet.

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