Let us Give Thanks for the All-Too-Often Thankless Jobs

By: Kristen Thorson and Erin Gohl

Schools really are remarkable places. School personnel welcome hundreds of children each day; find ways to promote individual academic, social, and emotional growth; create opportunities for collective experiences for groups of students who come from disparate backgrounds; safely transport students to and from school or on field trips for experiential learning; connect with individual children who may be having a difficult morning or week or year due to challenges at home; and ensure the holistic development of students in a context of high stakes testing and shrinking budgets. And they do so for 180 days each year.

Accomplishing this is no simple task. The successful operation of schools relies on a deep and vast infrastructure of people who go well above and beyond the listed roles of their job descriptions to create consistent, warm, nurturing, safe, joyful, and productive environments for students and families each and every day.

When we send our children off to school, we often take the work these individuals do for granted. As we embrace the season of gratitude and pause to reflect on all that we are grateful for in our lives, let us remember to notice and acknowledge these deeds and actions that positively impact the lives of our children and families each and every day.

Notice All the Care that Goes Into a School Day

Over the next weeks, open your eyes to the everyday actions of those who work in and around schools that make it a special place for your child and all of the kids within the school community, in big and small ways. Pay special attention to things that often go unnoticed. Aspire to find the good in all situations, especially ones that are possibly challenging or frustrating. Recognize the team of people whose daily efforts build the welcoming and supportive environment of your school community:


Teachers welcome both new and former students in with open arms every day. These professionals arrive at the school building long before the school day begins, remain long after the final bell rings, and all too often spend weekends going into their classrooms or working from home to create meaningful, inspiring lessons and opportunities for their students. Teachers smile, welcoming kids in the sun, rain, and snow. And teachers make this magic for all of their students, regardless of the student’s morning challenges or general life circumstances. Teachers create memories and stories that will be told by today’s students to their own children.

School Support Staff

These staff members come into classrooms to partner with teachers and students, working to establish and maintain relationships with the students they support along with all students in the classroom. Specialists work to adapt instructional materials and create a productive environment for each and every student they serve. Amazing instructional aides work to help students who need the most support, and still manage to tie your child’s shoes and give a welcoming smile or hug.

Health Staff

Providing more than comfort for scraped knees or a waiting room for sick children, nurses, nurse’s aides, and other health supporters provide emotional support in times of stress, education for lifelong habits, and models of preparation. They care for our children when they are most vulnerable, and do so with consistent, nurturing support.

Cafeteria Staff

The folks that serve with a smile to kids and faculty of all demeanors are all too often overlooked. These community members have tremendous organizational discipline in meeting the unwavering schedule of multiple lunch times and evoking flavor and nutrition from limited ingredients. They provide a certain rhythm to an important break in a student’s day.

Office Staff

A school’s front office staff sets the tone for all interactions. They are perennial multitaskers—fielding phone calls; answering constant questions from parents, teachers, and community partners; giving directions; collecting lost and found items, and shifting between these activities on a minute-by-minute basis. They serve as the air traffic control tower for the school. And they do so with a calm and welcoming spirit each and every day.

Bus Drivers and Crossing Guards

These are often the first adults a child sees when they leave the house, welcoming your child as they transition from home to school. They keep children safe and ensure routine and structure, often while managing children who might have woken up late, had a tough morning, or who were not quite ready to say goodbye to their parents. They show up consistently, providing a familiar face that positively starts the routine of the school day.

Custodial Staff

School custodians often work quietly, and seemingly magically, to set up tables for events and return spaces back to normal within minutes. They are a team that works in shifts to open and close the building, clean up after lunch, vacuum classrooms after school, and polish floors. They often must stay late or cover extra tasks when a school hosts a special event or meeting. They do so without disrupting the operations of classrooms and usually with a smile as they cross paths with our children.

Expressions of Thanks

During this season of gratitude, extend the circle of appreciation to all those whose actions contribute to the common good in quiet and unappreciated ways. After noticing and observing the many amazing ways those in our school community make a difference in our children’s lives, take action.

Show recognition and gratitude. Write a note of thanks and appreciation, even about a simple, seemingly mundane gesture that made a difference in your or your child’s day. Share your excitement and gratitude by telling others about the good you have seen. Express positive thoughts or anecdotes about teachers and other staff members to administrators. Kind words can travel through a school community leading to a wave of appreciation. In recognition of all that school staff members do, extend your support to them. Offer to bring in things for special meals or send in some extra pencils or tissues midway through the year. This reciprocity is noticed and appreciated.

Include your children in this practice of appreciating those around them and expressing their gratitude. Begin to watch for the good and even find sparks of hope and joy within tough situations. Have your child write their own thank you note. You might help them get started with a sentence starter such as “I appreciate it when you…” or “My favorite thing you do is…” and let them share their thoughts. Modeling and sharing in these expressions of gratitude results in a shift in mindset for you and your family.

A Culture of Gratitude, Thankfulness, and Appreciation

Let us use our individual expressions of thanks to lead and inspire an overall culture of appreciation. Let us notice and share gratitude every day for those in our school community whose actions contribute to our common good: notice the warm smiles that welcome our students as they enter school each day; appreciate the care with which a teacher responds to a concern about your child; recognize the constant effort that goes into ensuring our children are in a clean, safe, and nurturing environment each and every day.

All of these seemingly simple actions are rooted in tremendous care and thoughtfulness. They transform a school from a building filled with classrooms to a community filled with friendly faces, joyful moments, and personalized support for each student. Let us make an effort to give thanks to all those in our school community who tirelessly do these thankless jobs, going above and beyond for our students. And let us commit to doing this all year long.

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Photo credit: Sydney Gerritsen, Bergman Academy, Des Moines, IA

Kristen Thorson

Kristen Thorson is a Getting Smart Columnist. She is known for her experience as a teacher, interventionist, and curriculum and assessment developer

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