I was diagnosed several years ago as humility challenged. I’m on medication. It’s not working. I still think I’m incredible.
I make it my business to be incredible. It’s the natural outcome of lessons from my father. He would tell us, “Do more than they asked. Do it better than they expected. You’ll never get fired. They’ll fire your boss before they fire you.”
I was thinking about my Pa in these days of turmoil and attack from politicians against educators and our collective voice, our unions and associations. When Pa retired from the Army, he got a job with the FAA and became a shop steward in his union – a public sector union. He believed in his responsibility to help his union. He believed in his responsibility to be an incredible worker. This was his union work ethic.
I am also thinking of my Pa because he was a man who worked with his hands as a mechanic. He never went to college. He never even finished high school. He was a sponge that learned by watching others and trial and error and volunteering for every training course the Army offered until he was a master of electronics and engines. He fixed things. He had a lot in common with our Education Support Professionals. The custodians and technicians and cooks and teaching assistants and bus drivers who work with our students.
My National Education Association and our state and local affiliates are often referred to in the press as the “teachers’ union”. But everyone who works in our public schools is eligible to be a member. Half a million of our members are Education Support Professionals. We couldn’t run our schools for a day without them. I know this, because I began my career in schools as an Education Support Professional. Specifically, a Lunch Lady.
(OK. That’s padding my resume. I was actually The Salad Girl. I hadn’t worked my way up to hot food yet.)
I would like to say for the record: I was an incredible lunch lady. I teased the kids as they went through my line, and I plopped creamed corn on their plates. I made up names for them. “Hey, Muscles! Hey Princess! Hey Cutie Poop! Eat those peas and I’ll marry you!”
There was an opening in the kindergarten for a teacher’s aide. I got it. I was an incredible teacher’s aide. I’d bring my guitar and my students knew all the words to the Barry Polisar classic: Don’t Stick Your Finger Up Your Nose ‘Cause Your Nose Knows It’s Not The Place It Goes. And we sang it with dignity.
And the kindergarten teacher one day said to me, “Lily, you’re good with the kids. Have you ever thought of going to college and becoming a teacher?” And I thought, “I would make an incredible teacher.”
And I was. I was the Teacher of the Year. Not because I raised their test scores on some commercial and totally irrelevant test. I was incredible because I convinced them that they were incredible. And they tried things and risked things and succeeded in things they otherwise wouldn’t have had they not believed in themselves.
My ears are ringing with talking heads sneering at our teachers as “privileged” and unworthy of decent pay. My comfort comes from the parents and students who still go out of their way to say thank you to us, and that quiet Thank You drowns out the meanness of attacks. But so often, our Education Support Professionals don’t get the same thank you’s that a teacher gets. They work so hard in the background. They are the right hand of a teacher.
Steve, the Custodian helped me with a student with behavior issues by inviting him to help sweep the multipurpose room while he let him talk about what was bothering him. Marge, our School Secretary, would sit with sick children until their mommies and daddies could come and pick them up. She never left a child alone, even if she had to stay late. Connie and Delores, the lunch ladies who taught me how to be a Salad Girl, could speak Spanish and made sure kids learning English got a little “Buenos Días, Corazón” and the kids would smile and feel at home.
We couldn’t do our jobs without them. They are essential to public schools and they are essential to our union – they make us a complete family. Everyday they do more than they are asked. They do it better than expected. They are kind. They are hardworking. They are creative. They are humble, and would hesitate to tell the truth, so I will.
They are incredible.
Do you know an incredible education support professional? Nominate them to be recognized as a Classroom Superhero! Visit ClassroomSuperheroes.com and click “nominate.”