Tuesday was one of those long days. Our 3rd graders were testing, which alone makes a day feel long. It also means they don’t go to specials (like PE, music, art) so we teachers don’t get a break during the day. Needless to say, by the end of the day I was pretty wiped out (as I’m sure were they).
After school I was on the phone with my mom, trying to make some plans for our summer travel, when our custodian came in to vacuum. He came in quietly and was clearly trying to figure out how to do his job without disrupting me. When I realized what he needed to do, I scooted out of the room and talked with my mom in the empty hallway.
A while later, as I was turning off lights and gathering my things to head home, I realized we had forgotten to stack the chairs in our classroom. Two of my students do this every afternoon, but Tuesday wasn’t a typical day and we all forgot. Of course, that made our custodian’s job harder as he had to vacuum around the chairs.
On my way out I passed him and apologized for our forgetfulness. At the same time, he was apologizing for vacuuming when I was on the phone. He explained that as it gets humid outside our floors get sticky and the big, flat brooms won’t sweep up debris well so he needs to use the vacuum. I headed home with both of us apologizing and thanking the other.
As I drove home I got to thinking about how easy it is for us to make assumptions about others. Our custodian could easily have assumed I didn’t value him or the work he does because we didn’t help him out by stacking our chairs. I could easily have assumed he didn’t care about me if he was willing to disrupt my phone call. Instead, partly because we have a good working relationship, we each assumed positive intentions of the other (and I believe we were both correct).
Teaching is, as I’m sure you’ve heard, a challenging job. People in a school building are all doing what they can for the students there. Every role in a school has different challenges. When we assume that another’s job is easier or less work we are very likely wrong. We can’t know another’s job the way they do so we won’t see the totality of what they do. When we assume another person is being lazy or not doing all they should, again, we are very likely wrong. We have no idea what all they are doing.
I catch myself thinking primary teachers don’t understand how tough our job is in the upper grades with high stakes testing. Even though I know, after 8 years as a primary teacher, how hard that job is. I catch myself wishing I had the free time specialists have because they don’t have multiple collaborative team planning meetings every week. Even though I know how many other things they do have on their plates that I don’t. I catch myself thinking it might be easier to be an ESOL or special education teacher and not have recess duty or kids arriving early for breakfast. Even though I am aware of the extra testing duties they have all year, among other things.
Every one of us in a school building has a job that requires us to give our all. Sometimes things might be slightly less busy for some and crazier for others, but our jobs are all tough. The best thing I can do is to remember that.
- To remember that the primary teachers are working their buns off to help kids learn how to be active participants in school and learn to read and count and more.
- To remember that the specialists spend so much time ensuring our students have a plethora of opportunities to participate in things beyond the core content areas.
- To remember that ESOL and special education teachers not only work with students, meet with families, and do a ridiculous amount of testing and paperwork, but they partner with us classroom teachers in every way possible.
- To remember that instructional assistants turn on a dime and are as flexible as Gumby (look it up if you’re too young). They are with students nonstop and still manage to treat everyone with grace and patience. They are often paid the least to work with the students with the greatest challenges.
- To remember that our custodians not only clean the school but encourage students, help us with mechanical challenges, and make sure our rooms and halls and spaces are welcoming places ready for learning every day.
- To remember that the office staff communicate with families, whether for positive or not-so-positive reasons, make sure that we have everything we need for our students, and generally are there to take care of whatever balls we might have dropped.
- To remember that the folks in the cafeteria put together dozens of coolers for breakfast every day, stock our salad bar for the kids, prepare lunch after lunch, and still smile at our students and us.
None of us are working along, thank goodness. We’re all there for the students and for each other. Everyone giving all they’ve got.