How I was reminded of the possibility of yet another dimension in the role of school custodian

03 Nov

I had funny experience subbing at a school today. As I was walking down the hall before first bell to my portable classroom, a smiling woman a few years older than I greeted me warmly, asked my name, we shook hands, and she introduced herself as the custodian, as I remember it. I thought, wow, she dresses really nice for a custodian, and was delightfully surprised that she put on her best and communicated such warmth, seeing that as part of her role. A rather non-traditional interpretation of the role of custodian, but, I why not? I remember fondly both the custodians in my elementary school (called janitors in those days) as kind, humorous, humble older men who seemed like uncles to us, with their keys and mops and kindly eyes. We visited with them, confided with them, joked with them, and they were free of any authoritarian aura. The janitor helped anchor the school atmosphere in a kind of comforting parental domesticity.

During the morning announcements today, this custodian was part of a skit on fairness, and it was really well done–cute, understandable and relevant to students of any age; again I noticed her warm smile and enthusiasm, and was surprised to see her level of involvement in the school’s culture.

As I was circulating among students in my class while they worked on their assignments, the custodian came in to ask how things were going, and I said great, and complimented her on her skit. She laughed and replied that she was always nervous doing that sort of thing. She went on her way, and I asked one of the students what was her name again, as I have a bad habit of letting these details slip on first encounter. That’s Mrs. X____. Which I knew, because of prior research, was the principal‘s name. I told the students what had happened, how I really did hear “custodian,” and it was either a good trick of hers or of my aging ears.

I work there again tomorrow, and plan to bring the story to her and see if she confesses. I’m sure we’ll have a good laugh at the very least.



Posted by on November 3, 2014 in Education, Places & Experiences


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5 responses to “How I was reminded of the possibility of yet another dimension in the role of school custodian

  1. jdawgsrunningblog

    November 4, 2014 at 5:23 am

    reminds me of Thom Jones–great American writer who worked as a custodian at Lacey High School in Olympia for 15 years before finally breaking through into print…thank you for this story.

  2. LeRoy Pick

    November 5, 2014 at 6:42 am

    A cute little story. I like the clever duality to the word “custodian” (although I almost hate to say that I thought that was going to be the punch line from the moment you said she was well dressed).

    I remember the “janitor” at CCES (Frank, wasn’t it?) We boys used to squabble over the privelege of carrying the big garbage can from room to room during lunch hour as he dumped each classrooms individual garbage can. Quiet dignitiy would sum it up exquisitely.

    I had a more jovial janitor in my Unversity residence. Arnie went through the residence like a whirlwind every morning, cleaning and tidying with amazing speed and thoroughness. He had to be quick as he had a whole ‘nuther residence to do for the afternoon! He always had a kind word for everyone he met and if you had a need (a new light bulb, cleaning materials, something repaired) you just had to voice it and your wish would be granted. Arnie was a solid and reliable companion to everyone in the residence.

    On one occasion, some nitwits in the residence thought it would be fun if they trashed a washroom. Arnie just cleaned it up without a negative word, but some of the senior res-mates got wind of who had done it (the fools were bragging about it in the lounge, and gossip does travel). They were “taught”, in that back-alley way that mobs teach things, never to do that again (and it never *did* happen again).

    Moral of our story: don’t mess with a well-loved janitor!

    Just like you don’t mess with a well-loved substitute teacher. D’you remember “Cuddles”?

    • toesinthedirt

      November 5, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Yes, it was Frank, and remember how we were allowed to use his first name. Who was “Cuddles”? Couldn’t have been Mrs. “McFEARson,” though we respected her..

      • LeRoy Pick

        November 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm

        I never knew Frank’s last name, so I didn’t have much choice.

        I can’t remember “Cuddles” real name! I learned her nickname from Kathy C in Grade XI, I think, and that’s what stuck. Little old lady who looked like she was about 80, about 4-feet-nothing tall – she was shorter than I was and I was only 4-foot-9 at the time – and built a bit like a beer keg. Her favourite line was “Well, when *I* went to school . . . thousands and thousands of years ago . . . etc.”. She was as sharp as a tack and she *knew* kids. Unlike some substitutes, who were little more than overpaid baby sitters, she would teach something, although maybe not what she was supposed to teach, and you’d sit there and take it. I can remember having some interesting classes with her as the substitute.

        The year before we hit Grade 9 at SCHS, some doofus in the D4 (I think – mighta been D3) class there apparently gave her a hard time and wouldn’t take the hint from the others in the class to stop. At lunchtime, about a dozen of the male students in that class took him out behind the school and “taught” him that you don’t do that to “Cuddles”. I don’t remember who it was, but I did know the name at the time as kids on the bus were talking about it and my sister confirmed that she had seen him and he was looking “a bit the worse for wear”, if I remember the quote correctly.

        Once *that* story started going around, I don’t recall ever hearing about anyone giving her difficulty again.

      • toesinthedirt

        November 5, 2014 at 12:44 pm

        I guess one would call that self government. I often feel that kind of support in the classroom, though I haven’t had any real trouble. Sometimes I seven see kids reverse their own disruptive behavior when I appeal to their better nature. Which gives them a sense of honor, preventing the necessity of humiliation.


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