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Secretaries Rule!


Celebrate Administrative Professionals Week (April 23-29)


Dave Arnold

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most important educator of us all? Ask that question to a group of education employees, and I'm sure that most would say it is the school secretary.

Of course, some educators might claim that they hold the most desired positions at school. But even among those, I'm sure that school secretaries rank second.

The wheels of education don't turn without excellent clerical service workers. In fact, "Creating Excellence" is the theme for the 2006 observance of Administrative Professionals Week (April 23-29) and Administrative Professionals Day (26th). Administrative Professionals Week was formerly known as Professional Secretaries Week.

Versatility is Key

There are more than 4 million secretaries and administrative assistants working in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Another 8.9 million workers hold down various administrative support positions in various office settings.

At my elementary school in Brownstown, Illinois, there is only one secretary. We have four education support professionals (ESP) working in food services, four paraprofessionals, and two custodians. Our ESPs have their specialties, but our secretary has a multitude of services, many of which she isn't required to do. She helps staff, students and parents without giving it a second thought.

Some of the duties performed by school secretaries:

  • public relations specialist when a parent has a complaint
  • school accountant monitoring school clubs
  • nurse to ailing students
  • receptionist-hostess for guests
  • counselor to students, and sometimes colleagues
  • administrative aide to faculty members
  • clerk to teachers
  • communications officer to journalists

According to the National Education Association's 2005 ESP Data Book, there were approximately 582,000 clerical workers (members and non-members) in 2004. Here are some of their characteristics:

  • 540,198 were females
  • 379,242 had attended college
  • $30,000 was their average wage
  • 145,931 made under $10,000 per year
  • 25,331 lived below poverty level
  • The majority clocked 40-44 hours each week

Shelly was a Natural

What the data book doesn't show is that it takes a very special person to be a secretary. We have all heard it said that patience is a virtue, but in the case of the school secretary, patience is an absolute necessity. I can't think of any other person or classification that has to deal with as many people -- from the superintendent to students.

My neighborhood mechanic's five-year-old granddaughter use to help him file reports and bills at his garage office. I commented to the mechanic that he certainly had a good secretary. He didn't reply vocally, but his smile said it all.

That little girl grew up strong and wise. Today, she is our school secretary, Shelly Thomason. She is also the proud mom of a 6"6' son who stars on the basketball team, and a bright and beautiful daughter who is a cheerleader. Shelly and her family are a joy to know. She is one of the many reasons we honor our secretaries.

Expanding Responsibilities

National Secretaries Week began in 1952 with Mary Barrett, president of the National Secretaries Association, and C. King Woodbridge president of Dictaphone Corporation. They were serving on a council addressing a national shortage of skilled office workers. Together with Harry Klemfuss, public relations account executive at Young and Rubicam, they originated the idea for National Secretaries Week.

In 1955, National Secretaries Week was moved from June to the last full week of April, with the Wednesday being proclaimed National Secretaries Day. The name was changed to Professional Secretaries Week in 1981, and became Administrative Professional's Week in 2000. The latest name change reflects the expanding responsibilities and wide-ranging job titles of administrative support staff.

Hopefully, you and your Association will let your secretaries know how much they are appreciated.

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at dparnold@csuol.com.)

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.


Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.