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Creatures of the Light

Custodians Do Their Best Work During the Day, Like Most Humans

Dave Arnold  

Homo sapiens are not nocturnal. It is contrary to our nature to work nights and sleep days. Unlike bats, skunks, owls, and frogs, humans do their finest work when the sun is up.

We do not have a keener sense of vision, smell, or hearing after dusk. So I'm baffled at why so many school superintendents want custodians to perform their duties in the twilight hours.

Some believe that a custodian can work faster when buildings are vacant and classrooms empty. Some perceive that custodians disturb class during school hours. After 20-plus years as a school custodian, I believe this argument to be biologically and economically foolish.

Wired for Daylight

A superintendent I once worked with required me to maintain two district buildings during school hours while the rest of our custodial staff worked the night shift. It was no surprise to me that in one year's time we had at once the highest turnover of custodians, highest electrical bills, and highest heating bills in the history of the district. Why?

1) Custodains got tired of living their lives upside down.

2) Electric and heating systems were in operation all day and night.

Custodians need light to work. They can't navigate by moonlight or the stars like coyotes and nighthawks. Our ancestors may have shared caves with bats, but they hunted, farmed and fished during daylight.

In recent years, I'm seeing some employers and contract services become more sensitive to what I've preached for a long time: it makes good biological as well as economic sense to let custodians work normal hours.

According to Steve Spencer, facilities specialist for State Farm Insurance Companies, some larger facilities report as much as $100,000 in annual energy savings when the majority of cleaning takes place during the day.

Teachers Over Spiders

It has also been my reasoning that cleaning buildings is better accomplished when custodians can work with the occupants. It helps custodians to build a rapport with teachers, students and administrators.

As one of our teachers once said, "You don't mind helping someone who helps you." I know many nighttime custodians who work equally as hard as those who work normal school hours. Still, I don't believe that rapport with teachers can be accomplished when a custodian is not on the premises during class hours.

When custodial staff and teachers have a good working relationship, there are benefits. For example, in partnership with custodians, some teachers may require students to tidy up their desk area before leaving the room.

Because of normal workday interaction, teachers become more conscious of a custodian's task when the custodian can be seen inspecting and cleaning buildings. Student safety also comes into play. A teacher, for example, might need the presence of a custodian for science experiments, theater and gardening projects.

Daytime custodians also benefit by interacting more with educators than with spiders. Only by working normal hours can a custodian get involved in school activities related to sports, music, science and art.

September Schedules

Right now, before the new school year begins, is the time for school officials to think about adjusting work schedules for custodians. If officials are in doubt, they should take a look at the November 2005 edition of Cleaning and Maintenance Management magazine. It features an article by Keith Kidd titled, "24-Hour Opportunities and Challenges."

Kidd explains that the bulk of daytime cleaning (restroom floors, office areas, building entries, walkways) could be accomplished before school hours. He says that only small changes would be needed to implement cleaning during school hours, such as:

  •  Move trash cans to locations where they can be emptied without interrupting class.
  •  Block kitchens and restrooms at specific times durng the day for cleaning.
  •  Purchase low-noise equipment with muted engines.

As schools experience rising energy costs, school boards can reduce heating and lighting expenses by terminating night-shift schedules. This action will also enhance relationships between custodians and co-workers, and allow custodians to rest their minds and bodies at night as nature intended.
(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.