Phoebe’s Quick and Easy Guide to Making Enemies

Note: “Quick” may not be accurate, but it sounded nice. Additionally, this guide may apply to those looking to take over the world by means of impressionable children.

Disclaimer: My snark is on full-force today. As such, I spend most of this post focusing on the negative aspects of my role as a volunteer teacher at church. This is not to imply that I dislike this job; in reality, it is very fulfilling and I would hate to leave it. I actually find most of these things amusing, or at least excellent learning tools. If I was unhappy with my position, I would give it to someone who would be able to benefit from it.

I don’t think I was cut out to be a church youth worker, and at this point there are probably several people who would agree with me.

This isn’t to say I don’t love working with my class; I actually take great delight (most of the time) in teaching, playing games, singing songs, and getting to know “my kids”, even if most of them are too young to run Sword Drills. No, it’s my relationship with other children’s ministry workers which has led to this revelation.

See, I like structure. I need it, actually, or my life falls to pieces (no, duh?). When I’m told I will be teaching 1st and 2nd graders, I expect to be teaching 1st and 2nd graders; not kindergartners, not 3rd and 4th graders. When I’m told there’s a schedule to follow, I make sure my lesson plans adhere to that schedule, and I expect the teachers around me to do the same.

After 13 years at this church, I should know that most of its members are a little more lax and disorganized than I’m willing to accept. I never get started on time because the teachers for the adjoining classrooms are always late and I have to watch their rowdy children in addition to my own, who yet again have each other in choke holds, and, oh, look, that one just chucked his cowboy boot at another boy’s face.

My biggest problem is that I’m not the most sympathetic and patient person in the world. Personally, I don’t care if a 1st grader is too scared to come to my class alone and wants their older sibling to sit with them. I tried making this work for almost a year, but I’ve given up. That older sibling, usually through no fault of their own, tends to disrupt the rhythm of my class with their very presence. If a child is too nervous to be in their assigned class, perhaps they should sit with their parents until they have worked through their nerves, because life won’t always allow them to drag a sibling along as their protector.

I’ve had to bite my tongue countless times in the last year to keep myself from saying, “Tough it up, kiddo.”

(Yes, if a child is crying because they’re having a breakdown or someone just hit them or they lost their favorite stuffed animal, I will stop to console them. I’m not entirely heartless. There simply needs to be just cause.)

Yes, I realize these are 7- and 8-year-olds. No, I don’t think it’s weird to give them a healthy dose of reality on occasion. We spend the rest of the time learning pirate songs and acting out the story of the madman and the pigs as narrated by a sloth.

Then there’s the fact that I refuse to threaten discipline without having the means by which I may swiftly carry out that discipline (and I don’t bribe unless I’m desperate). When my assistant teacher decides to move to Ohio without telling me, this prevents me from taking a child to talk with his parents after he tackles and beats another child for the third week in a row.

Like any teacher with a dozen students and no assistant, all crammed into one of the smallest classrooms and without adequate AC, I do have a few double standards. For example, I am allowed to remove my shoes in class, but students are not allowed to do the same without my express permission. This is because I have enough self-control to not play with my shoes in the middle of class or turn them on the unsuspecting person next to me. Again, life is not fair and my classroom does not operate as a democracy.

Yes, I’ve tried seeking help for aspects of the class over which I have lost all semblance of control. The designated children’s director hasn’t been very helpful; when I first went to him inquiring about getting an assistant teacher, he basically told me to figure it out on my own. I had to turn to Matt when I wanted to adjust the class schedule so my kids actually had enough time to learn a lesson.

I tried getting advice from Andrea regarding my three “problem children”. Her advice? Focus on the smartest kid because he deserves to not be left behind, while the other two are beyond her. See, I tried that, but that gave “the smartest” a superiority complex. Hence the choke hold.

I tried appealing to Deb, the former teacher, after three parents in a week came to me to discuss issues their kids were having with – you guessed it – Mr. Smarty-Pants. Deb took on her practiced children’s teacher voice and began with, “Well, here’s the thing,” then proceeded to attempt to guilt me into ignoring it because Smarty-Pants had specifically asked to be on my team for VBS and loved having me as a teacher.

So? That has nothing to do with his habit of beating up other kids every time I turn my back.

So I took matters into my own hands, and far too swiftly for these easy-going Midwest Baptists. I marched Smarty-Pants downstairs to page his mother and said that, while he was very smart and usually listened, I was stumped about what to do with this new behavior I was seeing. I escorted three children at once to their guardian – twice in one day – with reports of constant hitting, wall-kicking, and defiance. I caught a third parent at the end of class and spewed my now-familiar “I love having him here but his attention keeps wandering and how would you like me to address it?” spiel. This parent listened happily and agreed her son knew better and they’d talk about it.

Guess which five children weren’t in class last week?

Yes, I’ve been a well-rounded drill instructor and made a point of catching parents to tell them when their children have behaved exceptionally well. (Believe, me, I have favorites. I’m not their mother, after all.) But I guess this wasn’t enough, because I think I’m already making some enemies with my no-nonsense approach. After all, I’m only 22. What do I know about children?

Yesterday one of the bus workers came upstairs looking for the 1st and 2nd grade class, her hand on a boy’s shoulder. She mentioned he wasn’t in 1st grade yet, but was the right age.

“Then he goes with the kindergartners,” I replied immediately. “This is the 1st and 2nd grade class and they don’t move up until next month.”  (“Graduation Sunday” is the third week of August, thank heavens.)

She paused, having already turned to leave without the child. “But….” She looked baffled.

“This is only 1st and 2nd grade,” I said again, flashing a don’t-mess-with-me-I-will-win smile I learned from my mother.

“So he has to go into the other class for one month?”

I squared my shoulders, smile still in place. “Yes.”

Not quite schooling her features quickly enough to conceal her scowl, she shrugged and marched away with the boy.

I may be out of a teaching position soon. Hearing about the “incident” later, Dad warned me that this lady shouldn’t be crossed because “she wields a lot of power”. (Though I’m not quite sure how or why. Politics don’t make sense to me.) I scoffed. “So does Mom, and she’s on my side.”

I used to be the sweet, compliant young lady working in the children’s ministry. I honestly wanted to keep things that way, but no one – especially my students – would take me seriously. See above mention of age, which naturally means I don’t know what I’m doing. Also, I’m not married – or even dating *gasp* – which clearly means I’m not a real adult, either.

Perhaps if I had time to get into my element, I could work back to that approach, but all regimes must start out strong or they are destined to fall hard and fast.

If I am by some miracle allowed to continue teaching – if only because there are no other options – I’m sure I’ll quickly make a few more enemies because of it. Luckily, I have some practice in that area now. To summarize, here’s what you do to make people hate you:

  1. Show them you know what you’re talking about, even if you really don’t. After all, there’s a good chance it’s not your fault you had to wing most of this as a matter of necessity, and you must take pride in every hard-learned lesson and coping mechanism.
  2. Conversely, know how to admit when you need help and have enough humility to seek it. Not even the best mastermind knows how to fix everything.
  3. Take matters into your own hands when other people aren’t being helpful and you’ve made an honest effort to seek outside help.
  4. Stick to your guns when people try to bend or break the conditions you’ve so carefully set up for the sake of your own sanity and that of your classroom, even when those conditions aren’t conventional. Gray areas aren’t allowed.
  5. Reward good behavior promptly to encourage its return and deal with poor behavior swiftly and with as little ceremony as possible. Treat both situations equally, giving no indication of favoritism.
  6. Accept excuses from no one, including yourself, and make exceptions to rules only for very special situations.
  7. Refuse to cast blame on other people, even when someone is trying to lead you to do so – the only exceptions being yourself when you honestly deserve it or the child you very clearly saw using his boot as a club. Do not accept the blame for things for which you are in no way responsible, no matter the pressure you feel to do so.
  8. Remain professional and ignore the very strong, very frequent temptation to vent – unless it’s to your parents or another person who stands as your best source of experience and support.
  9. Make eye contact at all times. This comes across as threatening and a challenge for dominance. People get very offended if they are compelled to back down first.
  10. Accept reality and demand others do the same. Even if no one else wants to treat 8-year-olds like intelligent, reasoning human beings, you must.
  11. Smile!

In conclusion, the sight of a confident, self-reliant, honest 22-year-old taking matters into her own hands and working out resolutions on her own is one which tends to get under people’s skin. Instinct dictates these types of people must be dealt with so they don’t upset some sacred balance, but they (I) usually defy all attempts at containment. I don’t know why people seem so determined to hold me back; all I know is my go-getter approach to life is what got me a job, so I must  be doing something right.

Or, again, I may not be cut out to work with small, impressionable children and ministry co-workers who are stuck in their ways. Baptists hate change, don’t ya know, and someone like me could be the wrong kind of person allowed to influence their children. But hey, look whose students (even Mr. Smarty-Pants) like her without being bribed!

If nothing else, I would be a great Evil Overlord.



3 thoughts on “Phoebe’s Quick and Easy Guide to Making Enemies

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