National Education Support Professionals Day honors secretaries, classroom aides, maintenance workers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and others who make a positive difference for children in public schools. These people are in many ways, the unsung heroes of our educational system. They are working behind the scenes to make school a safe and amazing place of growth and learning for every child.
We honor our education support professionals on the Wednesday that falls during American Education Week . As it happens, this is the 29th annual celebration of National Education Support Professionals Day, which was observed for the first time in 1987. That means we were relatively late in recognizing the contributions of support professionals to our children’s education. This is the 95th consecutive year in which American Education Week has been observed.
National Education Support Professionals Day
What and who exactly are we honoring today, on National Education Support Professionals Day? We’re paying tribute to the kind secretary who stops to calm a crying child, or offers a kind word to a child who really seems to need one. We remember the bus driver who gets the kids to sing silly songs to brighten the mood on a dark and rainy day en route to school. Most of us can name someone like this, a person on the periphery of the classroom experience who helped us make it through the school day, such as the cafeteria worker who always gave you an extra large portion of mac and cheese, because she knew it was your favorite.
Cindy Schwartz Kline shared her memories of a favorite support professional. “Bob Wyckoff was the school janitor at [my school] in Skokie, Illinois. Bob was friendly with all the pupils and teachers.
“I have a somewhat embarrassing memory: I once got stuck in the chair of a desk. My skinny sixth grade legs got caught in between the bars of the desk chair. It was recess and practically the whole school (that is what it felt like) was standing around looking and laughing at me. Bob came and also laughed and then sawed me out of the chair. Not sure if he ever let me live that one down.
“Bob had a sense of humor and he liked to tease. That was circa 1979/1980. Bob had been working there a while already and he continued well into the 2000’s. He was still there in 2011(not 100% sure when he retired). I also know that the school valued him so much that they sent him on a trip to Israel. Not sure how many African American custodians get that sort of perk!”
For Rivka Gornall Leiner, it was an actual teacher who supported her. Rivka was one of those smart kids who pretended she was stupid so the kids would like her. She was awkward and couldn’t properly navigate the stairs. The teachers took turns watching over the kids in the schoolyard during recess. But Rivka’s teacher Abe Communale, got a teacher to take over his recess duty, to help Rivka master the stairs. “My teacher in 3rd grade is one that I never forgot. He found a kid who had few social skills and was constantly teased for having good grades. I used to hide my report cards and pretend that I had the Cs and Ds that proved you were cool.
“I also had embarrassing problems. I couldn’t walk properly down stairs and would put two feet on each step, blocking the herd running to lunch in the basement. I also did not know how to tie my shoes.
“He, during several recesses that were left with another teacher, taught me both skills, patiently walking up and down the stairs with me.
“When we were divided [and] girls [sent] to ‘charm school’ (stand up straight, check your nails and -ugh – sewing), he saw me watching from the window longingly while he built a go-cart with the guys. The next week, he came and rescued me from hell and I [ended up] working on the go-cart for the rest of the year. And when I finally did get up the nerve to break the rules (a skill I did not really perfect until 8th grade 🙂 ), the entire class salivated to see the teacher’s pet get the paddle.
“He told them he would not give them the pleasure of watching, took me around the cloak room door and told me to scream when he banged the paddle, which he did loudly on the heavy wooden door. I was then given my real punishment, [to] read the entire C volume of the encyclopedia. I think he knew how much I would actually enjoy that.
“His name is Abe Communale, he taught for years and deserves recognition. All the kids loved him and wanted to go to school if they had him.”
For Sharon Marks Altshul, it was a special security guard at known only as “Bill.” He was “the best,” said Sharon. “Everyone loved Bill. He was the best security guard, knew everyone’s name, and greeted them with a smile as they came to school.”
My own children thought of the school secretary as the nice lady who would give them a cup of tea when they didn’t feel well. The tea (and sympathy) was sometimes all they needed. But when it wasn’t, Rena the secretary would call home and tell us what she thought: he has a fever and needs to go home or sometimes, he’s probably okay, no fever, but it’s your call. We trusted Rena, and she was a motherly presence to our children in school. I was thrilled when the kids presented her with an award during their graduation from elementary school. Everyone knew the award was richly deserved. Rena was a treasure.
Did you have someone special help shepherd you through school? How about your children? If you could nominate a support professional from your child’s school for an award on National Education Support Professionals Day, who would that be?
Help celebrate the day and these very special people in our lives by retweeting this piece with the hashtag: #EducationSupportProfessionalsDay