Not the Teachers

Finally a few commentators are starting to notice that the disrespect shown to teachers has hit a fevered pitch.  (See "Teachers Wonder, Why the Scorn?" and "I Don't Want to be a Teacher Any More")Teaching is a misunderstood and demanding job.  Also incredibly important.  The great teachers are awe-inspiring.  Frankly, the good ones have more responsibility and work harder than many professionals in other lines of work.  But so far no one seems to have noticed all the other folks who make education function.  In my district, there are more classified (non-teaching) staff than certified staff.  What about them?

Ask the classified staff in most districts and they'll confirm they are often overlooked.  These are the secretaries, receptionists, bookkeepers, attendance clerks, playground supervisors, registrars, classroom assistants, library managers, IT folks, special education and multi-handicapped assistants, cooks, custodians and maintenance workers in schools.  The majority in my experience have been very good at their jobs, able to work independently, responsible and frightfully underpaid and under-appreciated.

Our Classified Para-professionals

I have worked with outstanding Office Managers like Stephanie, Anita or Evie who could balance all of their diverse responsibilities, supervise other office staff and make sure nothing is missed in the busy life of a high school, from collecting grades from teachers to whipping together monthly newsletters to managing upset parents to setting up computer labs.  (I know, at this point you may be thinking, so what did you as the Principal do if she did all that?)  I have seen assistants working with profoundly disabled children who demonstrated superior insights into what those children needed and showed them unconditional love.  They've changed diapers and feeding tubes and kept kids safe.

I've seen custodians like Andy who took such pride in their schools that they went far beyond what was expected, even staying all night to thwart a senior prank.  Breeze the bookkeeper was so thorough and meticulous that she tracked down a 14c discrepancy, catching a credit card scammer in the process.  A counseling secretary named Jenny took on scholarship management and college preparation work with seniors every year, ensuring that our school had the highest rate of scholarship awards of any local high school.  An Alternative Ed Secretary named Brenda actually ran the alt ed program since we couldn't afford a full time teacher for the job -- and year after year, saw more students complete their degrees who started out credit deficient.  I could go on and on.

And each of our classified colleagues is more likely than their teacher colleagues to stay put, have children who attend the school where they work and live in the community the public school serves .  We teachers and administrators are more likely to commute from elsewhere.  Our classified staff give and give because this is not just a job; it's their community school.

 And what's their reward?

Very low pay.  While certified staff (teachers and administrators) receive a salary, classified staff are hourly wage earners.  Snow day?  They aren't paid.  Clerical days?  No pay.  Pay rates for most positions are barely above Oregon's minimum wage and most earn less than $12 an hour.  Out of that comes an ever-increasing employee contribution for medical care and pensions.  All of the budget cuts over the past several years have hit classified staff particularly hard.  Not only have many been laid off, but those remaining have seen their workloads spiral out of control. 

Worse yet, many districts try to employ as many as possible at just UNDER 4 hours per day to save on benefit costs, especially classroom assistants and cooks.  This is unconscionable in an education environment, one where we are supposed to care about families and one where we sometimes gripe that our students have no medical coverage.  Could it be because their parents work for us?  I have fought this battle for many years, sometimes with a little success, often not.  Too many administrators are willing to balance their budgets on the backs of their most vulnerable employees.

Even harder for many though is the way the public, some teachers and some administrators treat them.  Too often, we treat these dedicated people -- on whom we depend for nearly everything -- like second class citizens.  We address teachers with the respect of Mr. Jones or Mrs. Smith but our classified are just Mary or Sue.  Even students address them this way.  All of my efforts over the years to at least equalize name respect accomplished little.

So Please...

So while we're attending to how the assault on public schools is impacting the certified professionals, could someone call out a "Hey" to the classified folks who take care of everything but the teaching?  As a former administrator, my job was essentially just like theirs.  We're all support for the classroom teacher.  Could we show some respect across the board?


  1. Absolutely, a BIG HEY!!!!!!! Education is a family affair.


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