The twenty-ninth kid I hated had a name that sounded like an alcoholic beverage spelt backwards.
She was the real ‘Regina George’ of the playground. Nine years old and a real piece of work. It was scary enough encountering her as a teacher. I daren’t like to think how the other students in my class dealt with her hysteria.
Worse than the student herself, was her mother. The apple had not simply fallen close to the tree, but appeared to have been cloned.
My first encounter with the mother was as I brought the children into the playground on my first day of teaching that class, and had the pleasure of being sworn at, a walking stick waved in my face and a fair amount of shouting – not ‘raised voice’ but shouting. Apparently, another student was in tears because I’d told them to stand in line quietly. The child I was being accosted about, didn’t even belong to this raging lady.
Mostly due to shock, I can’t remember the rest of the encounter. But I most likely did my silent ignoring, head-shaking, frowning and general retreating-behaviour that happens when I’m faced with confrontation. There was no polite smiling and nodding. I let her be on her merry way, thinking to myself that if this was how she defended someone else’s child, I didn’t want to be in the crossfire when she defended her own daughter.
It turned out that crossfire could not come too soon. Her daughter would intimidate other students, steal their stationery, swear at them when no one was looking, pinch them, punch them and spread malicious lies. She was a class A ‘b’-word. However, she was equally cunning and could never be pinned for any wrong doing. She had become so expert at her subversive tirade on other students and her pathological lying that her coating of Teflon was beginning to form an entire suit of armour. Additionally, when her mother arrived to discuss any misgivings the school had about her daughter, she would begin ranting again, waving her pretend walking stick and inevitably leave a receptionist or manager in tears.
Now perhaps I empathised too much with Janis Ian and friends in Mean Girls, or perhaps I had been watching too many detective programs at the time (namely Wildside, which is an Australian series set in the gritty underbelly of Sydney’s suburbs and often sees rogue detective Tony Martin – the actor, not the comedian – slamming down his hand on interrogation tables); but I found myself making it my mission to catch this monster out.
The usual method was to accept any accusations the other children made. I’d take their side 99 per cent of the time to see if she’d crack. But she held tight, accepting no blame. This approach would lead to another complaint by the mother.
Sometimes I’d go with the more nurturing approach of sitting quietly and talking about the right thing to do, in an attempt, to check whether her conscience would kick in. It did not. Instead it further affirmed our suspicions of her sociopathic tendencies. Also, this approach would lead to another complaint by the mother.
And finally, the crème-del-a-crème was when beyond doubt she had caused another ruckus amongst her friends by gossip-mongering and – this is where my behaviour management style became a bit too much bad cop bad cop – I knelt down to be at eye-level and repeatedly asked “Did you call such-n-such a such-n-such?”
She didn’t crack.
The insistent repeating-of-the-question technique had worked in the televisual law enforcement programs when the detective was trying to get a confession from the ring leader of an international drug cartel. Why had it not cracked the nine-year-old?
And again, this approach led to another complaint by the mother and a meeting with the father, mother and daughter.
I would later find out that this pattern of complaint had repeated itself every year. Other staff would give me long lists of colleagues who had momentarily caught the ire, of these parents and their offspring, for months or a year at a time.
“Oh, you’re teaching that class,” they’d say. “Look out for that girl’s mother.”
“Oh, thanks for the heads-up,” I’d say. “It’s too late.”
It can’t quite be captured with words the level to which she and her mother terrorised the other staff and students. But the mere utterance of her name would normally trigger a fleeting spasm in the eyeball of whoever heard the name mentioned.
After that final meeting and a precarious understanding was met, the mother became almost polite, when collecting her child in the afternoons. The strained attempt at being decent was perhaps more unsettling than the reckless abuse she was more used to wielding. Nevertheless, all our careers felt less at risk of being destroyed on the whim of one of her outrageous accusations.
There was of course the complaint that I’d tried to strangle another student.
“Now, I know this wasn’t my daughter,” said the heinous mother, “but my daughter did see you pull on the backpack of another girl and almost choke her around the neck.”
More than likely that other girl had barged onto a bus, knocking over a senior citizen, and I’d reacted by loosely grabbing the top of her backpack as she continued to lunge forward self-inflicting her own asphyxiation.
Either way, I nodded politely, she made her complaint, I noticed she wasn’t using her walking stick anymore and then she wandered off into the distance for another day. At least now she was complaining about my mistreatment of other people’s children again, and not her own demonic offspring. We’d come full circle.
I headed back to the staffroom where we put our feet up on the desks, knocked back a strong cup of coffee, crossed another suspect off our watchlist and laughed heartily about how tough life on the beat was.
Or did that happen in an episode of The Bill? I can’t recall.