Classified and Valued
I have been taking walks down memory lane lately. I announced my official retirement last week; as a result, my mind has been flooded with forty years of memories! You know what else? The memories have all been positive! While I know there were definitely dips in the road, by God’s grace those less than favorable remembrances have faded, leaving me with a heart full of gratitude. I am so thankful for all of the experiences and beautiful people God placed in my path over the years.
One special place was Union Elementary in Ponca City, Oklahoma. I was blessed to be the principal there for four years. This past week I stumbled across a scrapbook the school made for me when I left. The sticky clear plastic pages (remember those?) were stuffed with photographs, drawn pictures, warm messages, and poems. The precious staff left me with a snapshot of some of the best years of my educational career. What a gift. As I thumbed through the pages, I was reminded of how important it was to value every single adult in our school community. Let me share one of my most vivid memories.
It was my interview day. Union had a long hallway that spanned the entire length of the building. For some reason, I happened to be out in the hallway when students were changing classes. After everyone was back in their classrooms, I noticed the long hallway was littered with trash. Keep in mind, the trash was not there five minutes before. At the end of the hallway, I watched as the custodian gradually made his way down the long corridor, picking up trash only to repeat the sequence after the next passing period. I was aghast and tucked this little experience away in case I got the job.
Fast forward many months later. I was the new principal of Union and so excited to get started! I hadn’t forgotten the ridiculous pattern of hallway littering and was anxious to see if it would continue. It did. I found it quite puzzling because the students absolutely loved our custodian, Claude. It was not uncommon to see one or two students embracing him. He was like a granddad, always ready to give a hug. Claude had been at our school for many years. He was part of the family. So why would our students be so disrespectful toward him? Didn’t they realize he was having to pick up after them all day long? It didn’t make sense to me. I was determined to stop it.
The following day I scheduled a time to go into every classroom. My conversation with the children went something like this.
Me: “Do you like our custodian, Mr. Donor?”
Me: “Then why do we treat him so poorly?”
Students: Puzzled looks all around.
Me: “Do you realize every day he has to walk down this long hallway and pick up your trash?”
Me: “Do you think we could show Mr. Donor how much we love him by not throwing our trash in the hallway?”
That was it. We never had major hallway trash again. This was all it took. We had to remind our students how we treat someone reflects how much we value them.
Mr. Donor was an important staff member just like everyone else. I think sometimes we may forget how essential our classified staff are to our schools. As a result, we don’t take the time to let them know they are appreciated and valued. Just how critical are they?
Our bus drivers are the first person a child may see in the morning. When children are greeted with a smile or a “good morning,” the tone for their day is set.
Our secretaries help put so many students and parents at ease. They often know the families so well. Students can see our office staff as advocates and, as a result, fires are put out before they get out of control.
Our custodians keep the building safe and presentable. Students often seek out the custodians for help, especially when someone is ill. No one likes that job!
Our lunchroom workers provide and cook meals. Many students would go hungry without this nourishment.
Our teacher assistants and paraprofessionals provide essential learning support for struggling learners.
Our maintenance workers come to the rescue when something breaks down, enabling us to do our jobs effectively and efficiently.
What would we do without them? These special people form the foundation of educational systems across the country. Do they feel valued? Appreciated?
The Bible has much to say about how we should treat each other. First and foremost, our actions should be grounded in love. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-38)
Loving our neighbor refers to anyone in our proximity with whom we can share God’s love. We are called not only to love those who are similar to us or with whom we feel comfortable but also to all whom God places in our path. This includes our classified staff!
Love also involves action. John reminds us we are to love not just with words or speech (I John 3:18). Jesus summed it up perfectly in Matthew 7:12 when He stated, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Sound familiar? We often refer to this as the Golden Rule. When we treat others as we want to be treated, we appreciate them, acknowledge them, and let them know they matter. As Christian educators let’s make sure these special people are not forgotten. Remember, every human being is valuable to God. We are each a unique creation with purpose.
I want to challenge all of us to take a moment this week and seek out classified staff or those who work behind the scenes to help our organizations run smoothly. What action can you take to acknowledge their contributions to your workplace? Maybe it is a written thank you note, a public acknowledgement, a small gift, a cup of coffee, or even a free massage! Use your creativity! Better yet, involve your students! What a great way to teach our children how to value others. Let’s create lasting memories for these important individuals who are often overlooked. May they look back on their time with us as a time of blessing and ultimately acknowledge the source of our love – God the Father.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24
Just for fun. Here is a picture of Claude Donor. What a precious man!