By: W.D. Wolfe
My middle school has a cast of characters that could rival the uniqueness and hilarity of The Office. From the office staff trying to calm nervous parents, to the new 6th grade students in August who are wondering when recess fits into the schedule, to the youthful-looking teacher who keeps getting stopped in the corridor and asked to see her hall pass, Timberview Middle School could keep the viewers wanting more and laughing uncontrollably.
What rarely gets noticed, however, are the heroes of the school that are hidden in the shadows; those folks who keep the wheels and springs of the institutional community quietly well-oiled. And yet, without them the pieces of the school puzzle would rub against each other with rough, weird edges.
My classroom has two boys, J and J, who stack chairs and help clean up at the end of each school day. I never asked them to help, never even suggested it. They do it…day after day, like a two-person team in rhythm as they complete the task. Other students, clueless about anything outside the three-foot area around them, chit-chat and stand around waiting for that dismissal bell to sound, but J and J keep at it until completion.
And then there’s our custodial crew. Most students don’t even think about the fact that the trash is taken out, toilet paper is available in the restroom, and scuff marks magically disappear overnight from their hallways. They assume that the iced-over sidewalks will be cleared by the hand of the Almighty and that the laptop computer they left in the gym will be taken care of until they get around to looking for it again. They clean up after our adolescent residents. I think there should be a day when our school custodians get to sit down and be waited upon by the students. On the other hand, since they are part of the hidden heroes, they would probably feel very uncomfortable having a studentserve them a plate of nachos.
Our school nurse gives out more bags of ice each day than the local party store on New Year’s Eve. She distributes band-aids in bulk and listens to the aches and pains of countless students. Just as it was when I was in middle school a few decades ago, it seems that math tests can bring on indigestion and headaches. The nurse is the school medical mom who makes the boo-boos feel better and tends to the student who tripped over her shoelaces going down the stairs, requiring a precautionary wheelchair. The nurse tends to the needs of ten times as many students each day than my physician, and takes care of students, as if they were her own flesh-and-blood. The school nurse is the hidden health hero of academia.
And don’t forget about the thankless job that our crossing guards have. Stopping distracted drivers who enter the school zone, she goes about her daily mission of keeping the young ones safe from the unexpected. Future doctors, lawyers, scientists, and teachers owe their careers to the stop sign she has hoisted overhead and her careful eyes that were and are able to spot potential tragedies before they occur.
And how about the paraprofessionals who seek to help our students with special needs experience joy and learning each day at school. They keep them safe as they navigate the crowded hallways, eat lunch alongside them, clean up after them whether it be an accident or an unfortunate moment of losing their grip on a full carton of chocolate milk. The paras are constantly on alert-status for medical crises and emotional meltdowns. Carelessness leads to catastrophes. They are the warm-hearted heroes of our school.
And finally, there are the substitute teachers. Have an influenza outbreak run through part of the teaching staff and see what happens when insufficient substitute teachers are unavailable. Truth be told, substitute teachers deal with an abundance of challenges. The teacher who is in the classroom daily knows the routines and procedures that work best for their students and how to handle the unexpected. Substitute teachers usually don’t know the history of the classrooms or the students. They received phone calls that morning, listened to the voice of the school person desperately looking for last-minute fill-ins, and agreed to help. If the answer had been to decline, the caller might have hung up and started to weep. Substitute teachers are the hidden, humble, and heroic last-minute lifesavers of the school.
Every school has been blessed by heroes such as students, support staff, and people with servant's hearts. I’m not sure how any school can properly function without them. It is an honor to serve beside them every day.
After 36 years of pastoring churches in Michigan and Colorado, Mr. Wolfe semi-retired and began to substitute teach at Timberview Middle School, where he has also coached basketball for over 20 years.