The Specialist

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August 4, 2009 by David Gillaspie



Cleaning DG’s B&B is a professional job.  We hire school janitors moonlighting on the side.  One came in with a new idea.

“Now I am more than a janitor.  I’m a teacher.”

Did you finish your degree?

“Nothing like that.  I don’t need a degree to teach kids in high school.”

You do if you want to get paid.

“My pay is janitor pay, but now the kids make my job easier.  I teach them janitor skills.”

How to mop?  How to sweep?  Do they catch on?

“You see, that’s what people think janitors do.  We do more than mop, sweep, and change light bulbs.  Much more.”

What else is there?

“Gum.  Lots of gum.  Gum on the floor, under the desk, on the wall.  Do you get gum here?”

Not so much.

“That’s right, and if you did you would ask your guests to stop with the gum everywhere.”

I would do that.

“And so did I.  I teach the kids about gum.  For instance, I tell them gum will pull the caps off your teeth.  You see this molar back here.”

He shows me his dental work, or what’s left.

“One piece of bubble gum and now I have a gold tooth on my dresser instead of in here.”

Do high school kids have capped teeth?

“With all the candy and soda pop machines, they must.  The gum drives the sugar into their teeth, then pulls the tooth out.”

The way you say it takes the middle man out of the picture.

“You still need a dentist.”

I liked them better when they cut hair and shined shoes along with pulling teeth.

“Now they specialize.  Like me.  I could scrape gum and kids would add more.  It’s job security, but are the kids learning?  They need to stop the gum tricks.  I show them how.”

By wrapping chewed gum in foil?

“By showing them how to scrape it off desk bottoms, out of cracks.  By telling them they are touching a germ infested glob of cavity maker.”

Did it work?

“We’ll see during the summer cleaning.  That’s when a team goes from school to school, classroom to classroom.”

The whole school?

“The whole district.  We clean the windows, the bookshelves, the light fixtures, inside the cabinets.  We draw maps of desks in the rooms and move them out, strip the floors, and  move them back in.”

You do that?

“Yes, in one hundred degree heat.  It’s a sweat job from clock-in to clock-out.  We’re moving all the time.”

Maybe you need a few nights at the B&B?

“I teach the kids about gum.  Next I teach them about graffitti.  Who do they think cleans up after them?  These kids have parents who make their beds.  Cleaning people who put their houses in order.  They think they will be just like their parents and afford all this help.

Not all of them will have a maid, or a mechanic, or a handyman to fix things that go wrong.  Now I teach them what they will need to know.  Computer lab is nice but what if they grow up and don’t have a computer?  The district won’t give them one from their warehouse.  Besides, a computer doesn’t clean up a mess, or take a bottle off a shelf.

When a kid throws a shoe up on a ledge, they walk away and forget about it.  They don’t care if it breaks a light that needs replacing.  Or care if the shoe belongs to a kid who now only has one shoe.  That has to change.

I show kids a mark on the floor or wall and tell them it has to come off.  They quit after trying a little.  I tell them to try more, but they don’t understand.  They think their effort is good enough, whether the mark is still there or not.  I tell them the mark must be gone before they stop.  Very few see it through.”

Do you make them scrub.

“You can’t make them do anything.  The teacher can’t make them do anything.  I encourage them.  I tell them the job isn’t done when they get tired.  It is done when the job is finished.  So often they think it’s someone else’s fault that they don’t hand in homework.  It’s the dog’s fault, the parents, the teacher.  Scrubbing magic marker off the bottom of a desk until the marks are gone shows them the difference.  If it’s gone, they are done with that desk; if the mark is still there, they are not done.”

You teach them responsibility for their actions?

“You could say that.  And once the students learn, I will give the teachers a class also.”

Teachers?  You’re going to teach teachers?  What do they do?

“Have you ever been in a teacher’s restroom?”


“This will be a graduate course for them.”

Will they listen?

“Of course.  It is their classroom, but it is my school.  They understand the big picture.  If not I will show it to them.”

In the teachers’ bathroom?

“We will start at the baseline and leave no teacher behind.  You wouldn’t do the same here?”

That is always the question.


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