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One for All

Perspective at School Helps Educators See the Big Picture


By Dave Arnold

Julian Burton “Burt” McGee flew over 90 missions in a P-51 Mustang during World War II. His single-seat fighter plane was named “Fiddle-dee-dee.”

On Memorial Day 2005, his local newspaper in West Monroe, Louisiana, ran a full-page story about his contribution to our nation’s freedom. McGee was 85 years old at the time and had lived a full life. In other words, he had perspective with a lot of humility and wisdom thrown in.

So, instead of McGee going on and on about his missions in the sky, his skills and daring-do, he spoke mostly about his mechanic, Percy Henry. According to McGee, it was Henry’s heroics and master trade skills on the ground that kept Fiddle-dee-dee at peak performance. And which helped to keep him (McGee) alive.

In the article, McGee also credited the good people on the home front for working long hours at factories building the airplanes and keeping the troops in supplies. He said everyone doing their duty for the war effort was an equally important part of the allied team. McGee, who was my son-in-law’s grandfather, died last year. I think he saw the big picture. He appreciated the value of teamwork.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

During this time of financial crisis and belt-tightening, we who work in schools must keep this in mind. We are all an equally important part of the team. Education support professionals (ESP), teachers and administrators each have specific tasks to perform.

Only by working together can we insure the educational success of every student we serve. When thoughts turn to education, the general public usually thinks of children and teachers. But it takes a team to educate a child. Every ESP is an equally important part of that team. As motivational speaker Adolph Brown III said at the 2009 NEA ESP Conference in Orlando, “Teamwork makes the dream work.”

Of the approximately 2.8 million school support staff in the U.S., about 507,000 are NEA members, and the number is growing. The NEA ESP team is made up of the following nine job groups (plus another one for higher education ESP jobs): custodial, security, food, health, paraeducator, clerical, technical, trades, and transportation. There are also about 60 sub-groups.

ESPs are Present All Day

For the majority of America’s students, their school day begins and also ends at the bus stop. The American School Bus Council stated that school bus drivers transport to and from school 26 million children each day. According to the 2008 ESP Data Book produced by NEA, school bus drivers accounted for 152,469 of full time ESP jobs in 2007.

After arriving at school, students are often greeted by school security. Those in security account for 33,484 of the full time members of the ESP work force. Their work might range all the way from escorting children across a school intersection to conducting drug prevention classes.

As the student enters the school they can be sure that a custodian has been there maintaining the classrooms, floors, cafeteria, and other rooms. They will guarantee that the lights are on, the doors are unlocked, and the entire school environment is clean, healthy, and comfortable. Custodians made up 430,663 of the full time ESP positions in

Once the students are in the building, many of them will soon consume the meals prepared by the 249,269 food service workers. These students will be treated to a tasty and nutritious breakfast before they hit the books. Those working in food service may also be required to serve lunch. Some schools also require them to prepare morning and afternoon snacks.

It’s easy to see that on an average school day a student can spend nearly an hour at the beginning of a school day, and come in contact with several other ESPs before they see their teacher or enter a classroom.

One Team, One Victory

During the course of a normal day, students will likely encounter the rest of the ESP team. Even though students may not meet some of those employed in the skilled trades, (crafts and machine operations) you can be sure that they are part of the team insure that the school operates smoothly for the success of the students.

You don’t have to take my word for it. If you visit, you’ll see 10-year-old Dalton Sherman address an audience of over 20,000 educators. The fifth-grader makes it very clear why it is important that we in education work together as a team. I really like the sign outside of his school, Charles Rice Learning Center, Dallas, Texas: “One Team, One Victory, Student Success.” Now, that’s good perspective.

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

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.