School Custodians

Jul 24, 2019 by

School custodians historically have either gotten a bad rap or are underestimated and taken for granted. Sometimes even the “professional staff” talks down to them. Rarely are they singled out for praise.

Is this due to an equal mixture of ignorance and snobbery?

Custodians and their staffs are “renaissance” men and women of the non-Leonardo da Vinci variety. They are masters of all trades, such as electricity, plumbing, carpentry, and glass replacement. They are skilled in trouble-shooting and repairing almost everything that is essential to maintaining the physical integrity and safety of the building.

A school can survive, even flourish in the absence of most administrators, but if the custodial workers are not on call within the blink of an eye or the snap of the fingers, the whole school goes into fibrillation.

It’s not limited to unclogging toilets, lifting heavy furniture, repairing bell signals, restoring display cases shattered by students shoved through them during one of those “altercations” familiar to middle school teachers, replacing burned-out ballasts of classroom lights, or clearing the schoolyard so that blacktop is visible a few hours after a near-blizzard, so teachers don’t need to drive around an hour to find street parking but can prepare lessons instead.

The above items are a fragmentary summary of what custodians do. I picked them as illustrations because they all occurred within a few hours in my better-than-average middle school.

Decades ago, when the news cycle was sluggish and tabloids were itching for real or imagined scandal, they would expose how custodians were compensated according to the square footage of their buildings, or they would dig up tales of nepotism among custodians and archaic rules that permitted them to use their job-issued vehicles for personal use.

Let’s respect our school custodians and stop calling them “janitors”, whether out of habit or condescension.  There’s as much dignity in being a janitor as in any other line of work, but the job description is not sufficiently inclusive, because the labors of custodians are more diversified. And let’s stop the snickering about their official title of “custodian engineer”.  Most of them are every bit as much engineers, as reckoned by training and work product, as school principals are educators.

Ron Isaac

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1 Comment

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    Mary McGarr

    As a high school teacher many years ago I was often prone to remark that the smartest person at our high school was Juan Torres, the head custodian.

    Your comments about the value of custodians at a school are spot on!

    The students one year dedicated the yearbook to Mr. Torres. It was a well deserved honor.

    Mary McGarr

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