What really happens at a school during the summer “break”

Ah, summer. The pace slows down and we can kick back before shifting into high-gear next fall. There are just two questions to consider:

  1. What should I throw on the grill for dinner?
  2. Which beach book should I pick up next?

Summertime and the livin’ is easy…right? Well, not quite.

Many classroom teachers, faculty members, specialized instructional support personnel, and education support professionals spend at least part of the summer updating skills through workshops and conferences. This is how we ensure that students, whether in kindergarten or college, are surrounded by caring, qualified, and committed professionals.

And there are some school employees who are generally busier than ever after the school year ends. What’s their summer reading consist of? Lengthy “to do” lists detailing everything that needs to happen to prepare for the next academic year.

They are buildings and grounds maintenance staff; custodians and housekeepers; mechanics; laborers; helpers; warehouse personnel; and crew leaders.

This summer, they’ll be working 10-hour (or longer) days to polish up, fix up, and spruce up buildings and campuses.

These “guardians of the school environment” will be juggling many tasks, including:

  • stripping, waxing, buffing, and replacing floors
  • scrubbing down classrooms and other spaces
  • repairing broken chairs and desks
  • reconfiguring, drywalling, and painting rooms
  • rewiring and replacing lighting fixtures
  • sanitizing, deep-cleaning, and disinfecting lockers, desks, chairs, restrooms, and shower areas
  • seeding, weeding, and watering
  • maintaining HVAC systems and repairing maintenance equipment

And that’s just on the first day of “summer break.”

One custodian says summer work is imperative because “first impressions are lasting impressions.” This is especially true for parents of new students who do a drive-by to see where the kids will go to school.

A former custodian in Kansas says the building’s appearance sends an important message to students. A clean building “shows our respect for the kids.”

There are many other ways custodians show how much they care, including listening to students’ worries and mentoring them, as a recent NEA Today article pointed out.

I know that more than once, I called on the custodian at my school. Steve would step in as planned and ask if I had a student whom I trusted to be his assistant for an important job, and I’d call on that child who needed a little attention. Steve knew just how to talk to them like a big brother and make them feel needed and competent.

This falls outside the job description, but they do it to connect with kids and help pave the way for students’ success.

“We need to help students forget their stresses from home and concentrate on becoming all they can be,” Marie Leonard, head custodian at Mont Harmon Middle School in Price, Utah, said in the NEA Today article. “I love hearing about their weekend adventures, and their highs and lows.”

To all the maintenance workers who make our schools and campuses shine, and to those who also find the time to reach out to students, we appreciate you. When it comes to creating environments that are safe, nurturing, and supportive of learning and exploration, you are the best.

Have a happy summer!

13 Responses to “What really happens at a school during the summer “break””

  1. Gs

    These “guardians of the school environment” will be juggling many tasks, including:

    1.stripping, waxing, buffing, and replacing floors (not getting done)
    2. scrubbing down classrooms and other spaces (done by teachers before school year starts)
    3.repairing broken chairs and desks ( by husbands of teachers)
    4.reconfiguring, drywalling, and painting rooms ( half completed with huge messes left behind for teachers to clean)
    5. rewiring and replacing lighting fixtures (joking right)
    6. sanitizing, deep-cleaning, and disinfecting lockers, desks, chairs, restrooms, and shower areas (lol – again done by teachers and their families before students arrive)
    7. seeding, weeding, and watering ( by a few pta parents who care)
    8. maintaining HVAC systems and repairing maintenance equipment (nope we will have heat in summer and none in winter, loud clunking overworked antique systems)

    And that’s just on the first day of “summer break.”

    • Blake

      Apologize you work at a district where they don’t do what there suppose to, but that’s very unprofessional and rude to speak on facilities staff as a whole. There’s many great hard working men and women who do there jobs daily and without them educators would be lost or in the dark (literally) haha

    • Dan Mortenson

      I’ve been stripping and waxing floors since the day school let out for summer, which involves first moving all of the furniture out into the hall, and then back afterward.

      I’ve also been cleaning the restrooms, shampooing the carpets, maintaining the machines we use to do all that, and treating them right so they will last. I’ve also been cleaning up after the summer lunch program that serves kids every day. After my summer gig at my own school, I’ll go to another one to continue the program.

      I’ve also, between all this, alerted maintenance to many problems that have to be resolved when no one is at the school, tracked and ordered the supplies needed by the crew.

      So don’t think that no one is working, just because your school is not pulling it’s share. Fact is, there is FAR too much to do, for our crew to do it before school opens.

      One is tempted to think that YOU are not a janitor or maintenance worker…

    • Kim

      My school does have a very hard working custodial staff where all of these things do get done. The principal actually cares and follows up, which is important. By the way, learn how to spell.

      they’re = they are (They’re not doing their jobs. = They are not doing their jobs.)
      their = ownership (their jobs, their books, their lives, etc.)
      there = location (over there)

  2. Leo West

    For more than half of my teaching career, summer meant working a second job. I was a painter for two summers and operated a driving range the next. A go-kart track took the next summer followed by a refreshment stand at a swimming pool. Then I became manager of the pool. Two years later, along with three fellow teachers we formed a corporation too operate the park where the swimming pool was located. In other words we bought a summer job so we could live. Most of these jobs had long hours and low pay. But so was teaching, my chosen profession.

  3. Minta Lynch

    Great article about the school’s unsung heroes!

  4. Sb

    There’s also our tech crew updating software and changing out laptops and computers.

  5. Jennifer Garvey

    I am very pleased that you took the time to recognize these hard workers and the extra effort many put in to support the education and well-being of the students in our schools. My mother is one of them and the love for the students and pride she takes in her work is amazing. Even though she has rheumatoid arthritis (an auto-immune disease) And the custodial department has seen some major cuts and she does twice as much work, she still does so with a smile for the students. I wish there were more people willing to recognize the hard work our custodians do all year and realize they do not get the time off and the pay that the rest of us do. Education certainly is a major responsibility of the teachers like myself and the administration, but it can never be what it is without the love, care, and hard work our in by our custodians.

  6. Becky Thimm

    Yeah!!!!! FINALLY a salute to the custodians and maintenance crews!!!!! At the schools I taught at, these special people were the backbone, the leaders, the welcomers, the examples, the most dynamic people, and the most REAL people on staff. I could never let them know how grateful I was for each and every ONE of them.
    They each will know who they are!!!!!
    Becky in Chula Vista, California

  7. JG

    Very happy that you decided to recognize all of the hard-working SFC’s, custodians, and maintenance crews who work very hard over the summer, but noticeably absent from your article are the hard-working school secretaries that also work throughout the summer. In our school district, we have short summers with other breaks over the school year. Because of all of the registration, class set-ups, supply orders, bookkeeping and, don’t forget payroll, that continues all year-long, we are also here every day working to make sure everyone is ready for the first day of school. Also, a “shout out” to our district office staff who work all year round to support everyone at the school sites.

  8. Martha

    I am a custodian and thank you for recognizing are hard work. I speak in behalf of my coworkers and myself I do it for my students and i love my job. We are considered the little people by some but I for one consider us as an important part of the school. Yes there maybe one that slacks but please dont judge us all for that one. We do what that one doesn’t. As far as secretaries especially the principal secretary they should try and do a little of manual work and not pawn off what they are ordered to do on us custodians we have enough to do than have to do there work too.

  9. Carol

    I taught and/or worked in schools as well as central and district offices for 41 years in New York and Virginia. My first principal took each of his new teachers on a tour of the building. When we came to the office of the custodian, he introduced us to the staff that were present. He later stated that while it looked like he ran the school, in reality, the custodial staff were the ones truly in charge. “They made sure the students and all staff worked in a comfortable environment and were available to help during and after school hours. ” He told all of his new teachers that we should treat all support staff with courtesy if you expected to be treated well on a regular basis.Yes, there will always be someone who slacks on their job. This happens in every job situation, including in positions of authority. The vast majority of custodial workers work many hours for poor pay and many times are not given the credit they deserve for their work. Does that statement sound familiar to anyone? teachers? secretaries? assistants? Let’s have compassion for anyone working in today’s society. The future doesn’t seem like conditions will get better in the next few years and we are all on this journey together. A smile goes a long way.

  10. Anonymous

    To school custodians:

    What do you guys usually do with work, art, or anything else, displayed in the hall, if it’s left there after the last day? The custodians at my school were not informed that the art had to be left there, and of course, I blame the teacher, now the ones done on paper are missing (canvas art was stacked in the corner of the display glass), including mine, which was the best work I will ever do in my life.

    (Yes, the custodians were asked about it, and they said they didn’t know, so I wanted to ask, in case they may have forgotten, since there’s a lot of stuff in display around the school that they had to put away.)


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