|Working in a district that has its classified employees unionized by Public School Employees (PSE), I have to admit that I am not an expert in their issues of pay, benefits, and working conditions. I have worked with my counterpart PSE presidents over the years and have had my teachers’ union support PSE job actions. And, of course, in thirty years working in schools in Washington and California, I’ve worked with many secretaries, janitors, instructional assistants, library assistants, and clerks.|
Since this is Classified Employees’ Appreciation week, I wanted to single out three classified employees who I believe are outstanding professionals. The first is Mrs. Martin who was my full-time instructional assistant my first year teaching a 2nd/3rd grade combination class in San Bernardino. She helped me understand the largely African-American community from which most of my students came. She was firm and kind, strict and loving—her guidance leavened with laughter. I learned a lot from her and depended on her support as I learned how to be a teacher.
Later, when I transitioned to the middle school level, I worked with Sandy, no last name, no formality, just Sandy. She was a great custodian—an older lady, had served in the military, gray-haired, a little gruff at first but very welcoming to me as a teacher new to her school. I used to come in and get coffee each morning, the big stainless steel coffee urn residing in her janitorial closet/office. Her philosophy on coffee was similar to wine—let it age. In fact, she never actually washed her coffee cup, preferring the complex maturity of countless java beans. One of my best memories of Sandy was when I dropped a coffee cup I had been given to by my father, one he had when we were in Berlin, hand-painted with the dates “1964-1967” and his rank in the army. It shattered into dozens of pieces on the cafeteria floor and I apologized as she came out to clean up the mess. A few days later she presented to me a painstakingly glued-together cup. It must have taken hours. It still sits on my desk.
By far the best secretary I’ve ever worked with is Barb, who I’ve worked with probably ten years. She is the most selfless, professional, conscientious, and competent professional I have worked with in public education. She’s never flustered, works evenhandedly in any imaginable circumstance, deals with difficult parents, teachers, and students with aplomb, is first to arrive and last to leave, and never, never promotes herself. She cleans the staff lounge, loads the dishwasher, and organizes the teachers’ workroom each morning before her day actually begins. She’s exactly who I want—who anyone would want—interacting with the public. I frequently refer to her as “a saint.” If our administrator doesn't show up to work, no big deal, but if Barb doesn't show up an unease pervades the building as people feel a void, the absence of a vital and indispensable part of our school.
We’re all--certificated and classified--working on behalf of public education, each of us in our own specific and vital roles.
Happy Classified Employees Week!