- Social Emotional Learning: Can It Help Our Most Vulnerable Students? - August 27, 2017
- Why We Should Teach Meditation in the Classroom - November 8, 2016
- Strike! - October 5, 2016
- Teaching a Superpower - September 22, 2016
- Essentially, I am a Teacher - August 30, 2016
- A Chicago Teacher's Dream - January 22, 2016
- A Career in Crisis - August 27, 2015
- Classroom Community and Rock-Paper-Scisssors - July 22, 2015
- The Art of Teaching - June 22, 2015
- Parent tip: Beyond Sounding It Out - June 4, 2015
Who are the custodians at your school? Do you know them by name? Do you know their strengths and weaknesses? Are you reliant upon them?
The crazy mess with custodial services in Chicago has made national news. Last year the Chicago Board of Education contracted custodial services with Aramark and Sudexo. Sudexo is primarily working at charter schools. Aramark is servicing the remainder of the schools.
The complaints of dirty schools have been rampant. Over forty percent of the Chicago Public School principals replied to a survey sent out by AAPLE, a principal activist group under the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. Principals are complaining that there have been dead insects and rat droppings in the schools. They haven’t been able to visit classrooms because they are dealing with cleaning issues. Principal are paying people out of their own pockets to move furniture. A Chicago Teacher Union survey reports that classrooms are only being cleaned twice a week. Rugs are left unvacuumed and trash cans aren’t emptied daily. There have been reports of bedbugs in the schools. The schools even smell bad, many say.
In the past, custodians were assigned to a single school. Now, they float between schools. This means they do not develop relationships with the staff, administration, or students. Most of the custodians work during the night. Positions have been cut. Principals have no authorization over them. Almost 20% of the custodians will be losing their jobs.
I think of the custodians that were in and out of my classroom. We recognized one custodian’s voice as he sang in a rich baritone as he set up in the morning. I remember one young man from Brazil, who spoke neither English nor Spanish. He smiled as he struggled to learn the language. After I apologized for a particularly messy room, one day, he laughed, “It's okay, Ms. Mer-ree-da, my job is to fix the mess.” Jorge, who was always there in the morning, cleaned more vomit in a month than most of us see in a lifetime. (Who cleans that up if the custodians are only there at night?)
Later when Jorge was diagnosed with colon cancer, the school rallied around him and his family. By making workers transient we take their chance of community away, also.
At my school we had no lunch room. This meant we ate in our classrooms. Daily floor mopping was essential. Vacuuming the rugs in primary rooms is also imperative. I did at least half my teaching with the class sitting on the rug. If you think you can keep a rug cleaner than that, try giving one ADHD child a tissue and see what happens. The rug is covered by teeny-tiny scraps of tissue in less than three minutes. (I can’t even guarantee the tissue was clean to begin with.)
I always required my class treat the custodians with respect. They worked hard to make a school the beautiful clean place it was. They mowed the lawns, moved furniture, cleaned up blood, and took pride in a job well done. They were connected to their school.
Perhaps Mayor Rahm Emmanuel (the Chicago Board of Education is appointed by him, and he is a famed micro-manager) forgot that schools are filled with children, not adults who work in an office. Generally, adults are fairly tidy. They have trash cans next to each desk. They don’t littler in the hallway. Or drag their pencil along the wall as they walk. The males at work don’t empty their milk cartons by squeezing the remaining liquid through the straw in the general direction of the bucket, pretending they are using a urinal. Most adults don’t sneeze, cough, or puke on every surface possible. They usually keep their hands out of their noses and mouths. They never sit on the floor. They don’t share 4 bathroom stalls with 150 other people. They don’t stick little pieces of paper or gum in the drinking fountain drain.
There seems to be a disconnect regarding the point of custodians in a school. Just as teachers are public servants, so are school custodians. They are there to make the best learning environment possible. It should be clean and welcoming place. It should be a community where people want to be. And those who make that possible should be respected, paid good wages, and they should not have to do the work of 3 or 4 people.
Oh, did I mention that Aramark has also obtained the food service contract for the Chicago Public Schools, too?