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The School is Our Second Home

Teachers and ESPs should work together to keep the house looking its best.

By Dave Arnold

Most of the school custodians I know take great pride in the work they do. This dedication to their job is never more apparent to the eye than the start of a new school year. But if you blink, you’ll miss it.

Custodians have spent the summer scrubbing, waxing, and repainting. They have labored for long hours in hot buildings to make the school look its very best. I can tell you as head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Illinois that there is no greater feeling of accomplishment for me than to walk into the school and see freshly-painted walls, sparkling floors, and pristine classrooms.

Keeping it Clean

Unfortunately, students will not see this. The summer work of custodians often gets damaged and undone before students arrive on day one. How?

By teachers. Especially new ones. It’s not on purpose or malicious. Nothing like that.

When teachers return to organize their classrooms they are often so eager to get everything in place that they are sometimes oblivious to the damage they do to the floors and walls.

One teacher I remember had no clue that the carton of classroom supplies she had dragged down the hallway had huge staples protruding like spikes from the bottom of the box. The result was a long trail of deep gouges the full length of the hallway.

Tape is another killer. When tape is placed on walls it will often pull the paint off when it is removed. When it is placed on floors, the adhesive will generally dissolve the floor finish.

Wiggly Trails Across the Floor

Teachers seem so focused on their personal goals of decorating their classrooms and preparing for students that they are simply unaware of the damage being done.

I think too that some teachers are so respectful of custodians’ schedules during this hectic time of year that they don’t want to bother us. They won’t ask for help when moving furniture because they know custodians are also on a deadline to get the school in shape for the new year.

Instead, they will force a heavy desk across the floor leaving a wiggly trail that will remain until next summer when the custodian again will wax and buff.

I Just Waxed That Floor!

“Anyone who has purchased a new car can remember how they felt when they saw the first scratch on the paint,” says Pat Nicholson, a custodian from Brownsville, Washington. “This is how custodians feel when they see a big long scratch in the pristine floor after a staff member drug a desk across it.”

Pat says he would gladly take time to help teachers move desks, book cases and tables properly.

“Custodians sometimes view an old school building as a classic automobile,” Pat says. “As something to be cherished.”

Briana Jenkins is head custodian at Saks Elementary School in Anniston, Alabama. She takes a vacation the week teachers return to campus just to avoid the torture of furniture scratching its way across the floor.

“I don’t want to hear the sounds of sliding furniture on the floor while teachers decorate,” she says. “New teachers seem to be the worse. They drag, drop, paint, and scratch the floors while they spend days trying to figure out how to set up their first classroom.”

Polishing the Floor and Our Relationship

My co-workers and I have come up with some easy rules to help keep our school looking its best.

First, draw a floor plan. Teachers should explain to custodians how they want their room arranged. Moving furniture should take place only after the scrubbing is done.

Second, post signs at the main entrance stating that moving furniture and using tape on painted walls causes damage. Indicate that custodians are available to help with any questions.

Third, show teachers samples of the proper tape (masking, blue painter’s) to use and which to avoid (industrial).

I really look forward to seeing our teaching staff return to campus at the beginning of a new school year. If only you could bottle their energy and enthusiasm. They are one of the reasons custodians work hard all summer to get “the house” in order. The other reason is students. Custodians would like them also to see their school looking beautiful.

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Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a 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.