A few years ago, I did some time as a casual childcare educator.
Wait that sounds like I went to prison.
I graduated from a GD in Early Childhood Education, and before I worked as a kindergarten teacher, I worked in different childcare centres around Melbourne. Most nights, I’d get a text about a shift, and all I’d have to text back was ‘YES’ or ‘NO.’ It was a brilliant arrangement.
Well, there are several stories I can tell you about this time, working with people from all sorts of backgrounds.
But this story is perhaps the weirdest, and definitely the most awkward.
It was April of 2016, and the weather was still delightful. Two months into autumn, and summer still hadn’t completely dwindled. Not that I was complaining. The wind was crisp, the sun shone high. I had a shift in Port Melbourne, the first time I’d been sent there. It was a thirty-five minute drive, and I was starting early so I was tired. But the weather was so beautiful, in the end I didn’t mind. And I found that Port Melbourne is one of the nicest suburbs in all of Melbourne. Wow, it’s gorgeous. Tall trees lined every street, all of which were wide and clean. The houses looked serene, almost like they were sighing in the cool breeze. There was nary a fault in sight.
And the centre was just as lovely as I expected. Spacious rooms, windows the length of the walls, and high quality toys – this place was rolling in it. Cash, I mean.
This boded well.
I expected a calm day, with polite children, and pleasant times.
And I got that.
For the most part.
The day was what I’d hoped. The kinder kids were great, and very clever. The day was stunning, so we spent most of the time on outside play. I still remember that day really clearly – almost four years later. Maybe because of what happened next.
It all started with one of the educators – Maree. I want to paint you a picture of this educator. She was very small, and fairly old. She had short blonde hair, and a yellow sweater. Her eyes were kind, and she was so gentle with the children. Honestly, she seemed like a complete angel. I need you to remember that, because of what comes next.
So, the kindergarten teacher, Kiara, was leaving for the day, so Maree and Kiara shared a fond farewell – one too long to be just a normal goodbye, or a cya later. Well, from my position to the side of them, listening casually as I observed the children, I understood that Maree was leaving – and on not such great terms. Sacrebleu! It can’t be!
Kiara left, after a few moments more, and Maree sat outside with the children, as an educator does. Until she was interrupted.
A lady with one hand stormed into the place, right up to Maree, her eyes flaming. A conversation ensued that was drama-city. Maree was telling the other lady that they’d basically laughed in her face when she’d asked for a raise, and One-hand replied, “Well, we’ve been waiting for a job description for a month! Where is it, Maree?” And the shrillness of her voice cut through my eardrums. She didn’t even wait for Maree to reply; she just stormed back out the way she came.
Mel, another educator, came to stand beside Maree, and they began laughing – I can only assume at One-hand and what she’d said – and then Mel said, “You can only take so much,” and poor old Maree wiped a tear from her cheek.
Things were just spiralling out of control. I couldn’t believe this was happening, in the yard, while children were still around – not to mention, me! A casual employee who’d never even been there before. What is this level of professionalism?!
I thought though, that this was the end. Surely One-hand wouldn’t come back to further provoke Maree. Not now. Surely.
I was wrong.
A little while later, after afternoon tea, the children had refilled their energy reserves, and were itching for more time outside, so we let them have it. I stayed inside to do the clean-up. I think the casuals are always left with the clean-up, but I don’t mind it. Cleaning is therapeutic for me.
Anyway, if I weren’t stuck cleaning, I would have witnessed what I did.
Maree was sitting inside finishing off a child’s Mother’s Day gift for him, and I was sweeping the floor, wiping the tables, setting things right.
And in walked One-hand, but this time she’d brought a friend. They walked straight to Maree’s table and One-hand said, “I think you’re finished for the day.”
Maree, stubborn, strong Maree, continued cutting a paper, and replied, “I’m doing something.”
One-hand was not as impressed as I was. “You’re finished for the day,” she repeated. Maree didn’t look up, and her adversary continued, “You can’t just do that, and expect things to be fine.”
The lady beside her, hair limp as a wet cotton field, squeaked, “There are witnesses!”
At this, my eyes went round as frisbees.
What did sweet, little Maree do?!
Picture this – Maree sitting at a table made for five year old’s, two women standing behind her, one with One-hand, the other with Limp-hair. And behind them, a twenty-something year old girl, broom tight in her grasp, eyes glued to the floor, ears open to whatever was going to happen next, sweeping aimlessly at a clean floor. All the while, gleeful screams floating through the open doors from the children running and learning and playing just outside.
The atmosphere was tense. Everything felt like it had frozen. All of us held our breaths, waiting to see what happened next, what Maree was going to do. I was completely unnoticed, as though I was literally part of the furniture. I guess I know how it feels to be one of the servants in Downton Abbey.
Well, as we all stood there, waiting for time to start again, my brain recalled a conversation I’d heard throughout the day that hadn’t seemed important, until now. Finally the puzzle pieces fell together. Apparently Maree had called someone a bitch, or something similar. I mean, it feels like a bit of an exaggeration. But perhaps Maree went on a tirade. Called everyone names. Plus they’d been waiting months for a job description. Why was she making them wait? Where was the job description, Maree?! Why were you hiding it?!
Finally Maree stirred, and said, “Not a problem.” She stood up, gathered all the papers she’d been cutting, and walked outside to give them to Mel, and explain what was happening. I was shocked into motion, too, and kept sweeping, eyes on the floor, as she came back inside. She retrieved her bag from the storeroom, and came out with tears streaming down her face, the poor lady. She completely ignored One-hand and Limp-hair who were trailing after her like they expected her to do something – make a run for it or something? – and sniffed once, and mumbled to herself, “where’s my water bottle?”, looked around the room once, then in her bag, found it in there, nodded, wiped her face, and walked right out of the room, without another word, or look, to anyone or anything, and the other two followed her out.
And I was left in there to pick up the pieces of the most awkward thing I’d ever witnessed in my life. Honest to God, legitimately, I have never felt more awkward, or more like I was intruding. I saw someone get thrown out of work. Pretty much. And the funniest thing about it was that nobody acknowledged me at all. I was like a fly on the wall, except everyone knew I was there, they just ignored me.
And nobody came up to me afterward to explain anything, or apologise for being so completely unprofessional. But I guess they had other things to worry about.
Poor Maree. I felt so bad for her. I tried to make sense of everything that happened, tried to understand why Maree calling someone a ‘bitch’ would lead to her getting fired. Here’s what I think actually happened.
Maree decided she was not receiving the pay she deserved, because she’d been there for a long time, and deserved more appreciation (I can vouch for the fact that she was at least a really good educator, and the kids seemed to love her). So she approached her bosses, and asked for a raise (a very hard thing to do). But her bosses being like many other bosses in the world decided that, no, they weren’t going to give her a raise. Instead, they’d fire her and hire someone they could underpay, instead. And so, they told her this, and asked her to write her own job description so they could advertise her soon-to-be-vacant position.
But, of course, Maree being the strong, stubborn type, decided, “nope, I’m not helping you get rid of me faster,” and, ignoring their demands, just skipped writing up the description at all. Of course the bosses got mad, and, as a last resort, they sent in their henchmen, One-hand and Limp-hair, to finish the job.
Well, that did it. Maree was vanquished at last.
I think that explanation makes sense.
In which case, poor Maree for real.
I hope she found someplace better, that appreciated her.
Thus ends the most awkward event I’ve ever witnessed.
Moral of the story: Don’t fire your workers during the workday.
Honestly, couldn’t they get her alone after work? Did she have powers of invisibility? Or could she run fast as the Flash?
Moral #2: If your bosses decide to fire you instead of giving you a raise, quit and get severance pay.
Ciao 4 now!