The Real Hero of the School? The Custodian

Thank you for keeping us safe.

The Real Hero of the School? The Custodian

Dear school custodian,

We don’t appreciate you enough.

When I was thinking about all you do for us, a quote kept swimming through my mind. It was from Sam Ewing, a former (but not well-known) professional baseball player. He was a minor league manager and college-level educator. It’s safe to say he knows about how hard work shapes a person on the field, behind the scenes, and in the classroom. So do you.

Ewing said, “Hard work spotlights the character of people: Some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.”

Custodians, thank you for turning up. Thank you for rolling up your sleeves. And thank you for working hard, even when some of us turn up our noses. 

The next time you walk down the hall, listen to the familiar jangle of your keys. Your keys sing a song of duty, honor, and dedication. They symbolize so much more than your ability to open doors.

You are key to our safety and security.

You understand that kids (and some adults) do not look where they are going, so when a student spills water, you set up a cone, reroute the troops, and mop it up. After a big snow, you show up early and salt the sidewalks so we don’t slip and fall. You get on a tall ladder and replace spent light bulbs in dark hallways. You kick into gear when the school is on lockdown, to make sure what should be secure is. And when a car has a dead battery, whom do we call for a jump? You. I doubt that’s in your job description, but you come out to help. When we lock our rooms at night, we aren’t concerned that someone will get in because we trust you.

You are key to our healthy environment.

You disinfect germy desks and doorknobs every night, and if (heaven forbid!) we have a lice breakout or a school-wide stomach plague, you clean lockers, cubbies, and shared spaces so the adults can sleep at night. You are the house expert on blood-borne pathogens because the majority of the staff glazes over those lessons during the annual training. You, bless your heart, drop everything, grab some sawdust, and clean up vomit when a student throws up, which seems to happen all the time. You scrub the post-lunch cafeteria and dirty bathrooms. You know first-hand why “this smells like a locker room” is in our vernacular, but you do your very best. Thanks.

You are key to our comfort.

Many school HVAC systems have a mind of their own, especially the old ones. You field the floods of “too hot” and “too cold” complaints and do your best to regulate, because you understand when students are uncomfortable, they don’t learn, and when teachers are uncomfortable, we get cranky. You caulk drafty windows, grease squeaky doors, and sync the clocks. You make sure playground equipment is in tip-top shape so recess is fun, as it should be.

You are key to our good image.

We host a lot of out-of-town guests, often on nights and weekends. You come in and make sure the bleachers are pulled out or the chairs are set up in neat rows. The gymnasium floors gleam because you wax, shine, and sweep them when we aren’t looking. You display our banners, flags, and awards with care. You make sure the grounds look good, because you are as proud of the school as we are. When an event ends, you stay late to take down decorations, put equipment away, and clean up the mess, only to start all over again the next day.

And you can be the best role model of all.

I dedicate this article to the wise and wonderful Eloise Krause, the evening custodian at the school where I started my teaching career. Our evening chats, conducted mostly while she arranged my classroom desks in neat rows, were about future goals and dreams, some likely, some lofty. She listened to and counseled me about some tough career decisions I had to make at the time. When I invited her to my wedding, I was delighted that she came. I often use the happy, red-checked tablecloth she gave us as a gift. A dozen years later, it still reminds me that no matter what your role in the machine, good character matters the most. For that, I am grateful.

Come share your shout-outs for the school custodian in our WeAreTeachers Chat group on Facebook.

PlusAn Open Letter to Myself: Don’t Give Up

The Real Hero of the School? The Custodian

Posted by Julie Blume Benedict

Julie is a former middle- and high-school English teacher. She kept her passion for education when she became a professional writer. She writes about a variety of subjects for publishers across the country. To see more of her work, check out her website.

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