A teaching moment

By Reade Brower | Apr 03, 2014

“He who opens up a school door, closes a prison,” Victor Hugo, poet, novelist, dramatist (1802-1885).

I love teaching moments so when I read about a private school in Washington that had a problem with their 12-year-old girls using lipstick in the bathroom, I had to smile. Now I’m not entirely sure this is a legit story, but I like the message so I will share it.

Apparently the young girls in the school were not satisfied by putting their lipstick on unless they pressed their lips against the mirror to check their work afterwards, leaving numerous reminders to the poor custodian staff that evening.

Every night the lipstick marks were cleaned off the mirror only to reappear the next day. The principal got involved and she gathered all the girls into the bathroom and asked the janitor to join them.

She then explained to the girls the problem this was causing for the maintenance staff and asked one of the custodians to show the girls. To demonstrate how difficult a task it was, and the effort it took to get the lipstick off the mirror, he grabbed his long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet, and proceeded to clean the mirror of the lipstick marks.

Since then, no lipstick kisses on the mirror, problem solved!

There are those who teach and then there are those who educate.

* * * * *

Speaking of custodians... I read with interest a letter to the editor in a recent Free Press that suggested that the idea of outsourcing custodial services at Camden middle school must still be breathing.

There were several articles in the Courier papers at the end of last year, followed by several protests by teachers, parents and students.

More than 100 people showed up at a joint meeting of MSAD 28 and the Five Town Community School District school boards in early December of last year. The overwhelming support of the teachers, parents, students and members of the community would have had me think that this was a “case closed."

Apparently not, since that Free Press letter was signed by 10 teachers asking for our collective support not to outsource, I assume this is still active and on the table.

The savings noted in the December article was that, after unemployment benefits had ended, MSAD 28 could save $138,000 annually for taxpayers.

It is understandable to consider this when budgets are tight. This kind of savings represents two plus teaching positions, but I can’t help side with the community support.

But, I also wonder why those hundred people aren’t being heard.

Their arguments were rock solid, but apparently it did not erase the dollar signs attached. Don’t the intangibles need to count for something?

Plus, what about doing the right thing; doesn’t that count for something more than money when it comes to the kind of society we want our children to grow up in? If this was just business, I might feel differently, but this is about our schools and our children.

This also affects 12 custodians, 12 Midcoast Maine families who will be adversely affected as the representative for Maine Real Estate, the firm out of Bangor chosen as the potential contractor, admitted the pay scale would be such that it is doubtful any current employees would stay on for the lesser pay and benefits they will offer.

What we have to decide is if we value those 12 families. What we need to decide is whether we value keeping money in the Midcoast. What we need to decide is whether we value the fact that relationships between students and custodians are important.

Several people stood up and told about the bigger picture. One teacher spoke to the wide range of the “above and beyond” things the custodians at her school performed. A spouse stood up and told of the broken furniture her husband brings home to his garage shop to fix evenings.

Three young students bravely went to the podium to read a message from their classmates saying they were sad to hear the janitors might be leaving. “We’ve known them for a long time….they feel like a child’s best friend."

We need to look at the bigger picture and do the right thing. Sometimes you get what you pay for and “be careful what you wish for."

A 25-year middle school custodian told a story about a boy who had been caught stealing at school. The principal and he agreed the boy would work with him “until we were both very pleased." He also noted that he and other custodians had helped numerous kids off the roof and helped many teachers and parents jump-start cars in the winter months.

A bus driver summed it up pretty well for me; he remarked that he was in awe of the elementary school custodian’s ability to remember the name of each child as they got off the bus. He concluded; “it’s a family affair here….We all work together for the same thing, for the benefit of the children.”

Doesn’t that say it all?

Onward! Courage!

Turn the Page. Peace out; Reade

Reade Brower can be reached at: reade@freepressonline.com.

Comments (1)
Posted by: James York | Apr 03, 2014 10:57

Well said Mr. Brower.

Why has this foolish proposition been allowed to continue to fester over the MSAD 28 community?    Education dollars should Not be directed to private firms whose aims are to turn a profit,   Rather local education monies should be used to bolster the entire educational community.

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