It is probably no secret that I have a special place in my heart for school janitors.
I can name the first one I ever met: Mr. Boder at Hanna Elementary, where I attended school as a child. He was a regal, soft-spoken man with iron-gray hair and (I seem to recall) a slight English accent. In another place or time, he might have been the perfect butler for a queen.
Later on, when I started my first job in education, my aunt (who was a lifelong teacher) gave me one piece of advice: always make friends with the school custodians. “Trust me,” she said. “They will matter a heck of a lot more than your principal.”
Sure enough, as I struggled through my first year of teaching fourth grade—stressed and constantly sick—it was Janitor Steve and his wife who showed up at my apartment one afternoon with an enormous pot of homemade pasta to keep me alive.
(In fact, Steve kept all of us going as teachers. He was our daily sounding-board—the keeper of our rants and our sanity.)
As a traveling author now, I meet janitors far more often than I meet principals. I’ve met janitors who write poetry and ones who impersonate Elvis. Janitors have read my books and hauled our equipment through wind and rain and snow—and done emergency “clean-ups in aisle 5” during writing workshops (no explanation needed!)
It’s no coincidence that janitors appear as characters in three of my seven books: There’s Mr. Joe who protects the students and their project from disaster in All of the Above, mysterious Mr. Ulysses in my upcoming book Things Seen From Above, and of course—Mr. Hampton, the former janitor turned artist in The Seventh Most Important Thing.
So, this holiday season, let’s recognize and PRAISE the unsung angels, men and women, who clean up our schools and keep everything (including us) going each day.
As Mr. Hampton says about the angels in our lives: “Some are like peacocks. Others are less flashy. Like city pigeons. It all depends on the wings.” Thank an angel today.