I have been thinking recently about the support staffs at school. This is the custodial/maintenance people, bus drivers, kitchen staff and the para-pro’s. You could also include the coaches that are involved in the school district as well. At this time of year, some of these people get recognized. Usually it is the custodians for getting the buildings shined up for the first day and the cooks for making the Welcome Back Breakfast. But outside of this, there isn’t a lot of attention given even though they can make a significant impact on the students.
Now this lack of attention or recognition is not intentional in anyway. They just aren’t usually in the public eye unless something goes wrong. The fact that they do their jobs well is probably the reason people don’t tend to think of them. The teachers, principals, superintendent and school boards are most often the first line of sight when someone looks at a school district. But the support staff is like the glue that holds it all together.
For example, it was 20 minutes before a home track meet was about to start. At my school we use an electric cart to move hurdles and starting blocks during the meet. This is a huge need in order to keep everything running smoothly and on time. I go to get the cart and the key is missing. After a short panic, I call our Head of Maintenance on his cell phone. It’s after work hours for him so I am hoping he picks up. Long story short, he answers, leaves his house, rushes to the track and wires the cart so we can use it for the night. Then assures me he will get it fixed permanently later in the week, which he did. On his own time, without complaint he was there. You cannot put a price tag on that. In the big picture, that had an impact on hundreds of people (athletes, coaches, workers, parents and fans).
What if you had a child that needed a 1-on-1 aide. Wouldn’t you want someone as close to an Angel as possible taking care of them when you’re not there. What about a child with severe food allergies. The cooks are literally in a life or death situation in some cases. There is no room for error. Anyone who has sent their kid to school for the first day of Kindergarten can appreciate the bus driver who greets them with a genuinely warm smile. And the first time your kid is on a team, who doesn’t want the coach that teaches the skills of the game, while giving them a positive experience that will keep them wanting more.
Bottom line, a school district doesn’t function without them. It is to their credit that they go unnoticed, but lets remember throughout this school year to make it a point to say “Thank You” and “Good Job”.
I have had the good fortune to have traveled all over the country working with educators of every school size and grade level. I really enjoy this because I find it interesting to listen to what educators from other places talk about. Do the teachers deal with the same issues in Arizona and Missouri as they do in Michigan? Are the student behaviors really any different? Do they face the same criticisms from their public and politicians as we do?
What I have found out is that they deal with almost the exact same issues. As I have mentioned before, education is not a perfect profession. Like anywhere, you will occasionally get the bad egg. But when you look at the number of teachers on average who are dismissed from their jobs due to poor performance, it is less than one percent. All school employees are hard working individuals regardless of location, school size or cultural make up. Union members, non-union members, support staff…it doesn’t matter. They all want what is best for the students and are willing to do whatever it takes.
The piece of information I found the most interesting was the universal frustration with those people or groups that are the most critical of our educational systems (particularly the teachers), yet know the least about it. I wish there was data showing how many educators are asked about issues discussed in the political arenas prior to them taking action. Maybe this data is out there, but I have not found it.
I made it a point to read us much of the recent campaign materials here in my local area as possible. I even made phone calls to ask some of the individuals there direct thoughts on the schools and education. The personal conversations I had were pleasant and convinced me that they truly want education to be the best it can be for all those involved. The unfortunate piece was their personal opinions were based on information gathered from very few people and some of those people were not in the field of education.
For example, the Common Core is a big issue in education, therefore it is a big issue in the political scene as well. One individual is under the impression the Common Core is completely bad and should not be the curriculum of choice. They were stating this because they had watched a short video presentation of a college professors opinion. Now the Common Core may be terrible or it may be great or it may be both, but the thoughts and opinions of it have to be based on more than one source and preferably those sources are the educators that have to deal with it directly. Like the saying goes “Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution”.
This is just one example. There are many times in education when the thoughts and opinions and most importantly the decisions are not based on what the educators know, but rather what others think.
I was on Facebook and one of the people I consider a friend posted the following:
My first thought was why does it have to be a teacher? They could have used any adult such as a parent, grandparent, friend etc. There are endless options other than using a teacher. Now I really don’t think the intent is to make the teacher look bad. This was meant for the purpose of those who may not believe in God. But regardless of your thoughts and beliefs on religion, don’t you take away from this that the teacher is dumb, that the teacher doesn’t have a brain and that the teacher is close minded!
I know for most of you I am preaching to the choir, but I still do not understand the lack of respect teachers receive. Deep down I do believe it is the majority that still appreciates the incredibly difficult job anyone working in education has. It just seems that more and more of these types of things are creeping into the norm and becoming socially acceptable.
As I have written before, teachers are generally sensitive people. We are put under incredible amounts of stress and expectations in the name of what is best for the kids. We understand that, but these things begin to get old and overtime start to chip away at our efforts and energy levels.
So many times you are expected to do a little more, give a little more stay a little longer and in nearly every case, the teacher really doesn’t mind. Teachers are givers by nature. The key to this is no different than it is for anyone. Teachers want to be appreciated for what they do. A pat on the back and a genuine thank you can go a long way and be very uplifting.
Some of you may be thinking but not all teachers are good. Unfortunately, that is true. Teachers are hired from the human race and not everyone is good. But most are and they care very deeply about their students and the job they are doing.
All things seem to cycle and I am sure this is no different. I just hope I am still around when it does.
Last week I went with my wife to a staff get together at a restaurant. My wife is a middle school counselor (grades 5-8). She has not been there long and was excited to do something socially with the staff. This was organized by one of the teachers for a fun time before the new school year officially blast off!
Having been in education myself for now 23 years, I was very comfortable around all of them even though I did not know them very well. But it is amazing how similar these people were to the people I work with every day in my school district. They talked (and laughed a lot) about the crazy things their students did last year. They were very curious about any new hires over the summer as well as there was much discussion about changes for the upcoming school year.
At one point during the night, someone brought up the building project and how the new windows were being installed. One person had driven by the school and was showing pictures they had on their phone. Everyone one of them was genuinely excited about these new windows. I listened as they described the size of them and how the shades were embedded within the windows. Others started asking if they had done their particular room yet or were just the offices complete. These windows truly made these people excited.
I am sure windows are not something people would ever think would help a students education but it does. It is the little things such as new windows, or a freshly painted room or even new carpet that can make you feel that little bit better when you walk through the doors ready to face a day. It brings a level of respect as a professional. I know when I look in my own room and see the ripped carpet with cement floor exposed; I surely don’t feel overly appreciated.
Now I understand school funding and the cost of such things. Especially the taxing process of asking the public to give even more than they already do, but it is still important, very important, that everyone remember that little things like new windows can make a BIG difference in the overall picture.
Recently our elementary principal, who has two children of his own, started having kids come to his house where he has set up a very nice cement slab and basketball hoop. The kids can play basketball (3 on 3) for about two hours. Parents are welcome to drop them off or stay, but if they stay, they cannot say anything to the kids. The idea is to let them call their own fouls as well as work out any conflicts themselves. It has been a great experience.
This has made me think of how many life lessons these kids get from playing what many people would consider just a game. The most obvious benefit to them is the physical activity. Prior to 1980, childhood obesity or juvenile diabetes was practically unheard of -very rare. That is no longer the case. It is great to see these kids red faced and sweaty after a couple of hours of hard playing. The other obvious lesson they are learning is problem solving or conflict resolution. Calling your own fouls, settling the disagreements of if the ball was out of bounds or a foul was committed all are skills that will help them later in life. All of us have to work and get along with others. Now is the time for them to learn this.
Another observation I made from watching, that may not stand out to many (perhaps because of my math background) is the academic component. They have to keep score, win by two as well as logically think if a two pointer will end the game or should they just go for one. The ages for both boys and girls range from 4th grade all the way up to Seniors. The older ones help the younger ones which gives some of those kids the opportunity to be a leader. Something they may never have experienced before.
With all of this, I am left with the final thought of what a shame many schools have or are considering cutting physical education. There is much more going on during so called play/games than you would think.