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The secret Samaritans of the school

Custodians come clean about why they love their jobs despite low pay, occasional disrespect that comes with job

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The secret Samaritans of the school

A HARD DAY'S KNIGHT: Working hard to keep McCallum clean, janitor Kenneth Sterling takes out the trash from the boys bathroom. After finishing the boys bathroom, he cleaned the science hall. “I never decided to [be a custodian] initially,

A HARD DAY'S KNIGHT: Working hard to keep McCallum clean, janitor Kenneth Sterling takes out the trash from the boys bathroom. After finishing the boys bathroom, he cleaned the science hall. “I never decided to [be a custodian] initially," Sterling said, "but once I started doing it I just really liked it, and I still like it today.” Photo by Lily Dashner.

Lily Dashner

A HARD DAY'S KNIGHT: Working hard to keep McCallum clean, janitor Kenneth Sterling takes out the trash from the boys bathroom. After finishing the boys bathroom, he cleaned the science hall. “I never decided to [be a custodian] initially," Sterling said, "but once I started doing it I just really liked it, and I still like it today.” Photo by Lily Dashner.

Lily Dashner

Lily Dashner

A HARD DAY'S KNIGHT: Working hard to keep McCallum clean, janitor Kenneth Sterling takes out the trash from the boys bathroom. After finishing the boys bathroom, he cleaned the science hall. “I never decided to [be a custodian] initially," Sterling said, "but once I started doing it I just really liked it, and I still like it today.” Photo by Lily Dashner.

Lily Dashner, guest reporter

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Lights are out, doors are locked, all you can hear is the AC turn on and the footsteps in the ceiling tiles that you know aren’t human. The lights turn on.

It’s six in the morning and even though students won’t start their day for another three hours, it’s time to start cleaning the campus in preparation of another school day.

The janitors at McCallum work hard every day, and the reward they receive for their work isn’t measured in dollars and cents.

“I really like being a janitor,” longtime Mac custodian Kenneth Sterling said. “The best part about my job is that you can see what you have done and look back at it and know that you were part of something good.”

The best part about my job is that you can see what you have done and look back at it and know that you were part of something good.”

— Custodian Kenneth Sterling

In some ways, it’s thankless work because people expect a room or a hallway or a school to be clean and don’t necessarily think about how it gets that way. In addition to cleaning the school without complaining, they also are called on to solve any of a number of problems that crop up each day.

They help teachers get into their classrooms if they get locked out. They clean up messes caused by careless students and old, leaky buildings.

Janitors in 2019 are being paid about $12 an hour, which is $4.75 above than the minimum wage in Texas.

Do janitors feel they are paid a fair amount for their work? It depends on who you ask. Sterling said he felt it is a fair amount.

“Being a janitor is one of those jobs that people don’t really appreciate, but it’s something that’s got to be done so it’s important as anything else,” Sterling said.

While it is true that janitors are sometimes underappreciated, many of the students we talked to seemed to understand how hard they work each day. When three students were asked to predict when janitors arrive at school in the morning two of them were correct, saying they arrive around 6 a.m. while a third thought they arrived even earlier.

ANOTHER ONE FIGHTS THE DUST: This sign hangs above a closet that acts as the janitor’s work space where they keep all of their supplies that they need for the day and the school year. Head custodian Daniel Sena said he likes his job: “To me it’s one of the most important jobs in the school because you keep the students in a safe environment.” Photo by Lily Dashner.

Freshman Elijah Biddelman-Chisholm said he thought the janitors get to school at 4 a.m. and leave around 8 or 9 p.m. That would be a 19-hour days and 95-hour work week, which is not legal, but the custodians do work hard, long days.

According to Sterling, the morning-shift custodians get here at 6 a.m. and aren’t allowed to leave until 3 p.m. Sterling says to get to work on time, he had to get up at 4 a.m. at the latest.

They clean the school when students and teachers aren’t here, and they serve the needs of students and teachers when they are. They clean floors, clean up food, clean doors, and they try to make sure no students get sick.

Student might think that it would be hard to stay motivated to do the same tasks each day, but head custodian Daniel Sena explained that the students help him stay motivated to do the job.

“You know, this is going to sound really funny,” Sena said, “but, a lot of the time when I get really down on my job a student will come up and say thank you for no reason. There was one time I wasn’t feeling well, I was feeling down on myself, and I was picking up paper towels on the floor and a student told me ‘No, I’ll do it, you do a lot.’

There was one time I wasn’t feeling well, I was feeling down on myself, and I was picking up paper towels on the floor and a student told me ‘No, I’ll do it, you do a lot.’”

— Head custodian Daniel Sena

 Sena said that it means a lot to him just when a student takes the time to hold the door open for him.

 “Most people in this universe think, ‘Hey, if I just leave something on the floor then someone will clean it up,'” Sena said.

The teen version of this phenomenon occurs on campus every day when students throw a piece of paper in the recycling bin, miss and don’t even think to go over and pick it up and put it in the recycling bin.

To most, such an act might not seem disrespectful, but what if you see that action through the eyes of a custodian?

Respect is a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Do we show respect to janitors at McCallum High School as much as we should?

Biddleman-Chisholm said that we should.

“They’re like the secret little shadow of the school,” he said. “You don’t really see them very often but what they do is a big part of of helping us like not get sick constantly, or not getting attacked by a pack of rats. We really do appreciate them.”

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