Over the past 19 years, I’ve taught at eight different schools. This post begins with three stories that come from a few of these schools.
It was almost the end of the day, and a student was in the hallway. He’s in a self-contained class at the school, and has a variety of needs. Most educators and students are afraid to talk to him. They don’t have a positive enough relationship with him yet to make the discussion successful. *Tim (name changed for privacy reasons) does. Tim happened to be in the same hallway as this student. The bell was going to ring at any moment, and the student was standing at the top of the stairwell with his ball. He wanted to throw it down to see if it would bounce back up. An interesting science experiment, perhaps, but not a safe option when hundreds of kids would be coming out of their classrooms and into the stairwells in a few minutes. Tim looked at the student. He said, “I don’t think you want to do that, buddy. It may not be safe. You wouldn’t want the ball to accidentally hit anyone. Maybe there’s a safer space you can test this out instead.” The student looked at Tim and said, “Good idea!” He grabbed the ball tightly, waved goodbye, and wished Mr. Tim a great night. With another person or in another circumstance, he might have thrown the ball. But his positive connection with Tim, stopped the problem from occurring.
A Grade 8 student is having a lot of problems at school. He’s constantly in trouble, regularly in the principal’s office, and hates school. Or, I should say, he hates it except for his interest in what one person — let’s call him, *Mark — does. He stops and watches Mark every day. They talk. One day, Mark invites this student to help him out. A day of helping leads to many more. Pretty soon, they not only spend the lunch hour together, but also periodic moments throughout the day. This connection is such a positive one that Mark helps change this student’s perception of school. He wants to come now, and he’s getting in less trouble the more time that he spends with Mark. Trajectory changed.
As Kindergarten children begin to write, they like to make their mark everywhere. Just look at these wall and door spaces as proof.
Nothing is better than having an audience for their work.
While most adults and children passed by the many notes of our youngest learners, a couple of staff members — let’s call them *Tracey and *Ted — always stopped and looked at them. When our students wrote notes for them, Tracey and Ted would read their way through the pictures and the phonetic spelling to make sense of the text. They’d even respond to these notes through their interactions with the students, a note in reply, and/or their follow-up actions. In the end, Tracey and Ted recognized the growth of our children more than many other people in the school did, as they saw the evolution of their writing, from initial sounds and some random letters to more conventional spelling. Our kids knew that Tracey and Ted cared about them, and as such, our students developed closer relationships with these two. In fact, they often came up with daily reasons to write them notes and connect with the amazing Tracey and Ted!
Who are these people? These caring adults, who made a difference in the lives of kids?
They would be four, of many, amazing Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board caretakers. If a deal is not reached by tonight, these caretakers and other CUPE employees across the province will be going on strike tomorrow morning. As Andrew Campbell shared in a recent tweet, the impact is going to be huge.
UPDATED: Currently 36 #onted school boards say they will close schools on Monday if #cupestrike goes ahead. Check out your board’s status through this "crowd sourced" doc. https://t.co/JyK272pdQC #cupe #onpol #etfo #osstf #oecta #aefo
— Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99) October 5, 2019
Recently, I had a great conversation with one of these incredible caretakers. He looked at me, and choking back tears said, “What’s going to happen to my kids? The ones that need me?” This individual doesn’t need to work. He does so because he truly loves his job, and he loves “his kids”: every single child in the school.
In our Board, caretakers and maintenance workers are our only CUPE employees. They play important roles in our schools. Recently, Diana Maliszewski wrote a blog post about her school’s incredible caretaker. Her post reminded me that we need to recognize the people behind the job. For some kids, the absence of the caretakers in the school will also mean the absence of some of their biggest champions.
What are your stories? By tomorrow, I hope for a fair contract, and the happy presence of the first people I say “hello” to in the morning and the last people I say “goodbye” to at night. These thousands of CUPE employees make a tremendous difference in our lives and the lives of our kids.
Beautiful stories, and beautifully written! Even my son, who goes to the daycare in the school is on a first name basis with the school’s caretaker. He knows the caretaker’s name and the caretaker knows my son’s. My son won’t officially start as a student of the school for two more years, but when he does, I’m thrilled to know that he’s already developed this relationship with a caring adult. This caretaker (among others in the school) always stop to say hi, no matter what they’re doing. One in particular goes into the daycare centre and develops relationships with the toddlers and preschoolers, all of whom know him and are so excited to see him when he does!
I’m thrilled a tentative deal was reached this weekend. And thrilled these relationships will continue to foster this week!
Thanks for his wonderful, timely post!
Thank you so much for sharing these stories from a parent perspective! I love listening to how friendly our caretakers are with the kids, and how they always stop and connect with them, no matter what they might be doing. How wonderful for your son, and other children there, to already have this relationship with a “caring adult” in the building. I’m just imagining the positive impact that this will have when these kids eventually start at our big school, and know that they have a connection with someone special.
I’m also thrilled to hear that a tentative deal was reached last night, and that these connections can continue! I think that they matter so much to both parties!