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Honoring the Unsung Heroes of the Teaching Profession

Jordan Catapano

The rubber meets the road in the teaching profession when teachers are interacting with students. Schools exist so students can experience meaningful learning environments facilitated by a professional. Everything else about a school is designed to facilitate that teacher-student interaction. But the “Everything else” can easily be overlooked. Behind the scenes of the teaching profession is the fleet of personnel who works to ensure teachers and students have what they need. These are your school’s unsung heroes, and it’s important for teachers to recognize, thank, and assist each of these essential members of the school’s team contributing to the teaching profession.

The Unsung Heroes of the Teaching Profession

Custodians. These hardworking staff members help to maintain the physical building space. Can you imagine being in a school without custodians? They take care of many details, large and small. From clearing out the garbage to making sure the air conditioner is running, students and teachers would not be able to gather in a building as they do without these essential behind-the-scenes members.

Secretaries. Almost no one knows more about running a school than the secretaries. It is impossible to list all of the responsibilities secretaries handle. They are often one of the first faces staff and visitors see each day. They handle an endless barrage of questions. They organize all of the chaotic sets of forms, data, and supplies. They meet our needs – even the ones we don’t know we have. And they do it all with a smile.

Administrators. While administrators are the most visible portion of the behind-the-scenes team, we often under-recognize what administrators actually do each day while the students are in our classrooms. To say they “Run the school” would be accurate, though a vast understatement as we consider how they interact with personnel, finances, the community, and a dizzying array of spur-of-the-moment problems that come up on a daily basis.

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Student Supervisors. Otherwise known as hall monitors, many schools have additional personnel working as the eyes and ears keeping the students safe. From the hallways to the bathrooms, to the cafeterias to recess, student supervisors are the ones who keep a close eye on our students outside of the classroom, and they often develop their own relationships and style of interactions with students to contribute to a positive environment each day.

Cafeteria Staff. If your school serves food, you owe a debt of gratitude to the people who make it. Everyone needs to eat, and our cafeteria staff works tirelessly, often serving more than one meal a day to hundreds or thousands of individuals. The food doesn’t magically show up in the cafeteria – while you were teaching, others were cooking.

Parent Volunteers. It’s not just a school’s staff that makes a school – it’s the whole community around it. We often rely on parents working with their own children at home, but it’s a remarkable advantage when parents step into the school and contribute to the broader student body. Our room parents, chaperones, PTA leaders, and more contribute to the environment and make important opportunities possible.

School Nurse. Teachers might attend to the minds of students, but the nurse attends to the bodies. Every boo-boo and scratch, every upset stomach and headache, every allergy and medical condition has its advocate in a school nurse. Attending to the needs of both staff and students, our nurses are our healers and confidants.

Counselors and Support Staff. While teachers teach the mind and nurses heal the body, it’s our counselors and support staff members who ensure students’ socio-emotional needs are met. It’s daunting to consider the range of services beyond the classroom schools can offer, our support staff members are on the frontlines of supporting our students in these ways.

See Them, Thank Them, Help Them

Most schools host many of these unsung heroes, and more. While the teachers’ job is to teach students in our classrooms, it’s important we remember there are lots of hands at work each day ensuring education happens.

First, try to “See” all of these individuals. While we might cross paths with many of them on a daily basis, do you truly recognize them? How many of their names do you know? Do they know you? Do you say hello or talk with them? Each member of your school plays an important role, and we do not want to overlook how they all contribute.

Second, be thankful for their contributions. When someone directly assists you, don’t treat it like an expectation but rather as a favor. From time to time – especially on birthdays or recognition days (such as Administrative Professional’s Day) – make sure to draw special attention to them and express gratitude for what they do.

Finally, don’t just assume that they’ll do their work and you’ll do yours. As you understand more of what everyone does, see if there are ways you can make their job easier. Can you communicate timelier to others? Can you make simple changes to keep an area cleaner? Can you give more information or descriptions in advance? You don’t have to do someone else’s job, but there might be little things you become aware of that help you operate within this broader team better.

Who are your school’s unsung heroes, and how do you try to recognize them? Share your thoughts on their contributions to the teaching profession with us in the comments below!


Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.