August 1, 2012
Teachers Talk - The Mostly Unlikely Teachers
Ian Mighty, Principal, Red River Valley Junior Academy, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Classroom teachers are undoubtedly the most valuable assets in our schools. While this fact remains unchallenged, I’ve come to realize that other school stakeholders are teachers, too, though many will never be assigned to a classroom.
 
I speak of those teachers who are hidden behind the titles of school bus drivers, janitors or custodians, and school secretaries. This excerpt offers glimpses of what could be considered as pretty creative teaching. If nothing else, it might just help to relieve you of any stress that you might be experiencing at the moment.
 
It was report card day and the bus driver was transporting a group of elementary students who were all peeking at their report cards and bragging about their grades. At one point on the route, the driver would allow the students to move up so that they could chat with him. One particular Kindergarten boy sat in the front seat with a grade six student in the seat across from him. The older boy asked the kindergarten kid, "So what do you have on your report card?" The kindergartener, without batting an eye, replied, "My name!" Looking quite bewildered, the little guy continued, "What? What's so funny?"
 
School bus drivers can teach our students the value of courtesy, patience, and punctuality. These drivers may know the students even better than their classroom teachers do. In some instances, they have transported the same group of students since Kindergarten. Their observations are important and we can glean valuable insights into the world of our students. According to a radio report, a middle school was faced with a unique problem. A number of girls were beginning to use lipstick and, after putting it on in the girl’s washroom, would press their lips to the mirror leaving dozens of lip prints. Finally, the principal decided something must
be done. He called all the girls to the restroom and met with the custodian. She explained that all these prints were causing major problems for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors nightly.
 
To demonstrate how difficult it was to clean the mirrors, the custodian took a long handled squeegee, dipped it into the toilet, and then cleaned the mirror. After that demo, no more lip prints appeared on the mirrors. Teaching isn’t confined to the classroom!
School custodians do more than mop floors and take out garbage. They teach students the value of cleanliness and pride in their surroundings. Although not often thought of as a key ingredient of a successful educational environment, the school custodian plays an essential role in maintaining not only the building, but also the health, attitude, and pride of students and teachers alike. I am often struck by the sight of seeing one particular school custodian who takes time to pray with staff and sometimes students who are having difficult times. What an ally to have on a school team!
 
A school secretary was having a telephone conversation with a parent. It related to an expectation the parent held of the secretary’s role—mind you, one of many unrealistic expectations. The parent said, “I was just driving past the school and noticed there are lots of
cars in the parking lot. Soo…… I would like you to check and see if there is something going on in my daughter’s class that I need to be at. Can you check for me?”
 
Great school secretaries are valuable staff members who contribute to good first impressions and the overall educational environment of our schools. Through their roles, they are able to teach what it means to be punctual, effective, efficient and empathetic on the job. These valuable lifeskills are essential for the future employment success of our students.
 
Classroom teachers are the most crucial conduits for student development. However, when you think about the issues our bus drivers, school custodians, and school secretaries take care of, like safety and health, and all the extra support they give to students, we have to conclude that they are also very important teachers in the lives of our students and our schools. After all, each adult
who connects to the school changes its chemistry in some way. As we make plans for another school year, may we remember these ‘unlikely teachers’ and sometimes ‘unsung heroes”. May we show them that we highly value their contributions.