It’s the month of Valentine’s Day so let’s talk about heart. Yesterday was a personal treat for me. I had a speaking gig, but a particularly special one. I was invited back to one of my former school districts to speak to the secretaries. First, it felt great that they remembered me fondly and invited me back. Even better, the day felt like a warm reunion. I was surrounded by so many familiar and friendly faces. And let’s be honest. I was happy to see so many people who had tirelessly and willingly helped me while I was a teacher in a new-to-me district struggling to learn the system.
If you have been a teacher for even a week, you’ve already learned how much the school secretary can help you. Their charms and skills are a treasure trove for a teacher. They can find a form, explain the software, tweak a copy machine so that it will actually run copies, and encourage a teacher like no other. The smart teacher recognizes all this and puts them on the pedestal they deserve.
For just a moment let’s talk about teacher turnover. Here are some sobering statistics from The National Council on Teaching and America’s Future:
One third of all new teachers leave within 5 years
- Forty-six percent are gone within five years.
- This figure has grown by 50% in the past five years.
These figures are staggering and yet I know that they are true. I supervise college level student teachers and stay in pretty close contact with the students I taught in a Teacher Academy program. I’m watching the truth of these numbers unfold day by day.
Forbes Magazine estimates that teacher attrition costs America 7.3 billion dollars a year!
Why? I can give you lots of reasons, but I will save that entry for another post. Please be patient with me.
Today I want to focus on what school secretaries and teacher co-workers can do to help stop that stampede away from a profession that is so worthy.
First, think about this. Who do we turn to when we are struggling in our job?
Look at this picture. Study it.
It illustrates what we do when we are hurting about our job. Who DON’T we turn to? Our bosses. We don’t want them to know how stressed we are. We don’t want a superior to know how we are struggling. Our bosses don’t usually figure out the level of our frustration until we are already gone. Look at this picture again. When we are hurting, we reach out, but we only reach laterally or downward. It doesn’t matter our age, culture or profession. We reach out for help laterally. We complain and vent to our peers. We look for their support. So what can we do to support one another? Everything.
We can listen. Sometimes that is all a frustrated person needs, just a SAFE place to vent.
- We can encourage.
- We can remind each other of our strengths.
- We can extend a kindness. Write a note. Bring in a treat.
- We can laugh together.
- We can be approachable. It is so important to have someone who will welcome questions.
In my experience school secretaries have played all those roles for me. They have been the glue that made me stick to a job when I wanted to bolt. They have made me better at my job. They’ve showed me the ropes when I was floundering.
School secretaries aren’t just the heart of the school, they are most times also the face of the district. They are the one person most visitors meet. Most visitors don’t ever see the superintendent or even the principal of the building. I am in and out of schools all the time in my role of a university supervisor of student teachers. Visitors judge a school district and its climate by their first contact with the school secretary. School secretaries are the public relations department of the district without the commensurate compensation. These days they also have become a school district’s front line protection against terrorists. When I showed this picture yesterday, it got a great laugh. One secretary said, “Oh, I NEED that picture.” So I’m reprinting it here.
When Did I Enlist?
The smart teacher who wants to succeed in the profession will recognize the wonderful ally in a great school secretary.
Secretaries are the Heart of the School
The face of the school,
The heart of it too
Secretaries impress us
With all that they do.
They find us the form,
And answer our questions
The skills that we lack
They don’t even mention.
They listen to troubles
And give us a tissue
They fix up our errors
Never making an issue
They explain the new software
Keep our secrets inside
They smile at the visitors
And open arms wide.
They make everything easier
We cannot be fooled
Our secretaries truly
Are the heart of the school.
On a personal note: My apologies to my readers who have continued to read my blog loyally these past few weeks, even when I have been too sad to write, I thank you. The statistics on my blog site show me that you have been checking in and waiting for me to heal. Thank you. Your loyalty to my words touched me. I’m feeling better every day and plan to get back into my post on Mondays. Thank you for your patience.
Also I had a very dear former student named Michelle write to me on my blog site. I was so happy to hear from her and wrote right back to her. However, her email address she provided was not current. Michelle, please contact me again. I want to communicate with you! I need your current email address.
TEACH…To Change Lives
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