About Jake Miller

Mr. Jake Miller is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, a 2017 NEA Global Fellow to China, and a former candidate for county-wide office. Miller has written more than 500 articles, most of which have appeared on The Educator's Room. He's the opening contributor to TER's book When the Fire Is Gone. Learn more about Jake at www.MrJakeMiller.com

I’ve watched plenty of Marvel movies and read plenty of comics with my kids before we returned to school just a few weeks ago. As a teacher, it was great to feel like an Avenger as appreciative and supportive words from parents, school board members, and, most notably students countered the inane, ignorant comments we’ve gotten used to the past decade or so. But as I slid out the chair from the teacher’s desk I hadn’t touched in the last 5 months, I stopped for a moment to just appreciate the work that those who serve as the “backbone” of our schools have done and will continue to do during this unique school year. They’re the real superheroes of 2020-21.

WHO THEY ARE

Custodians

When school buildings closed, the folks responsible for completely sanitizing the schools over and over again worked ceaselessly to try and prep them for their reopenings. Now that many schools have reopened, their jobs are the lifelines of our school. As if cleaning up after pre-teens wasn’t enough, now the intense anti-virus measures will determine whether schools can and will stay open, especially when outbreaks strike. Wear your cape proudly.

Bus drivers

Riding on a bus with scores of kids while keeping my eyes on the road already doesn’t sound appealing. To do that knowing some of them could infect drivers who are now, in many cases, making double or thrice the number of routes they typically run – now that’s remarkable. Some bus drivers own their community so much so that one of my co-workers said her driver called all the parents to meet the needs of their kids this year. Now that’s a hero right there.

Teacher aides 

Each morning as I enter school, there are about a dozen teacher aides who are performing a new duty – scanning students for a temperature check. As they work during the school day, they are often paired with the group of kids whose needs were least met and who have fallen furthest behind. On top of that, there are so many new tasks that our aides are performing, but like true crusaders, their guiding principle remains the same: how to best serve the students and the school. Some have as varied a schedule as they come, but they continually answer the Bat Signal’s call, no matter where it takes them.

Security officers 

Keeping schools safe has a new meaning, but let’s not forget a year ago what we were most concerned about. These individuals certainly have not. Our school’s security officer, a retired police officer who really, truly loves kids and his job, makes sure that we’re not so distracted that the homeostasis of our school home is intact.

Maintenance & skilled trades 

As CDC guidelines emerged on everything from shutting off water fountains to ensuring the airflow in a school met a certain criterion, the things we hardly think about behind-the-scenes of a school became just as important as anything in our belt of superhero weapons.

Technology staff

Speaking of, as school districts across the world deplete the global laptop supply to very often move their district 1:1 (a computer for every student), the troubleshooters handling our most pressing issues – computers, networks, and programs – have become the most dynamic part of our superhero team. I can’t tell you how many times my students have stopped in to watch them work their magic.

Cafeteria staff 

If you ever question why your school has a certain schedule, it’s probably to accommodate these folks. Many have transitioned from a heavy, student-serving buffet-style type of food service to completely working everything in-house and served by the staff. The food choices are much more limited and the work is much more fine-tuned as every sanitation box needs to be checked in the preparation, serving, and cleaning up after our students. On top of that, many are working more to create bagged lunches to ensure some of our neediest kids have a regular meal at home during the week, and it’s something they’ve been doing ALL SUMMER. “Lunch ladies – assemble!”

Library aides

One thing that’s struck me most was how many students asked to go to the library to check out books and take home. They’ve had to generate new policies in providing and collecting books. They’ve had to wear new hats as well, often serving as the technological epicenters helping the tech staff.

Front office staff

One of the first lessons my mentor taught me when I was hired 15 years ago was to befriend the front office staff. Your principals will come and go, but your secretaries and administrative assistants will often be there for decades. This makes them not just the superheroes of our school, answering the many questions that parents, students, staff, and even their principals have, but they’re generating and answering their own questions as well. The pulse of the school most certainly radiants from their desks.

WHAT THEY’RE DEALING WITH

For most support staff, they’re working in the $10-20 per hour range. They’re often the first-lines of our school. And they’re often the most exposed folks.

That’s, of course, assuming they’re lucky enough to not be laid off. As districts across the nation move to online learning, the support staff are often the first to face the budget pinch and not know where their already seasonal job will be in the coming months.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has proven that there are so many superheroes that have stepped up these past months. Support staff just happen to be ours at school.

Support Staff

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