Momhood

Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Office. The School Office

Sometime during their child's education, every parent should be required to work in the school office. It will not only make you appreciate the secretary and the principal, it will make you think twice before you fill out forms, write notes or call the school. It will also make you believe that many parents are idiots.

The secretary at my daughter's school was on jury duty this week and several parents took turns working in the office. I've done it before, so I was prepared for the amount of paper and systems that are in place to keep the school running. And even though this school has only 400+ children, I couldn't fathom doing that job every day.

First there's the germ assault that hits you hourly. At one point, I had three teachers standing in front of my desk discussing the various strains of their sinus infections or flu viruses. I wished I could reach for a facemask, or at the very least, scream GET OUT OF HERE! But I didn't. Then there are the children that march in and out searching for the health room volunteer, who is never there when you really need him/her. The kids are dripping, on the verge of hurling or complaining of a phantom ache or pain that always needs an ice pack. I swear these kids are addicted to ice packs, or perhaps just attention. Each of these minor incidents requires grilling the child for name, grade, room number and a recounting of what you did to treat the stubbed toe.

The next hurdle is attendance. It sounds easy - the kids either show up or they don't. Or, better yet, they walk in late, pop their head in the office door and say: "I'm late" so fast that you don't get a chance to ask who they are. In our school, the secretary knows everyone, a gift that goes far in her job. Even when I had the time to ask their name, I couldn't understand what they said through the mumbles and the sniffles. Part of taking attendance is recording the phone messages of the parents that do call in to say that their child will be absent. Bless them. Because after the attendance sheets are checked and teachers are quizzed about stragglers, the next job is to call the parents who don't call in. What are they thinking? That the school has a medium on staff to have visions of their child home sick in bed? And the best part is when they're irritated that you called. "Yes, of course she's sick. She's been sick all week!" Oh, right lady. I forgot to ask the medium about that.

Eventually, the phone calls start coming in. You'd be amazed at what parents call in to ask. "Do you know if Billy has gym at 10:30 or 11:30 today?" Or, "Can you get a message to Sally to say that she should walk home with Mary and not Suzy and when she gets home she should put the meatloaf in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour and a half..." Parents, this is the school secretary, not your personal secretary.

Then, you get the parents dropping things off in the office. "Jimmy forgot his lunch, can I leave it here?" "Sure," you say, an answer you eventually regret when it becomes apparent that Jimmy's lunch has fish and onions in it and he has no plans to come and retrieve it.

Parents pop in and out of the office with a stunning variety of requests. "Can I have a copy of the permission slip that was sent home six weeks ago?" Or, "Do you have a 2009 school calendar?" Or, "I'm picking up Eric for his haircut appointment. Where is he?" This one really blew my mind. First of all, I can't imagine taking my kid out of school early for a haircut, unless he was preparing for a White House visit. Secondly, the school office doesn't have GPS devices on every child. If your kid didn't show up in the office, go to his classroom and find him!

Meanwhile, there's still a hefty load of paperwork for the secretary to process in between the thousands of interruptions. And the best part of the paperwork? The dated and dilapitated equipment on which you get to work. The computer that is slower than a Commodore 64. The copy machine that overheats just by looking at it. Add to these the cramped quarters and lack of privacy and you have the makings of a challenging working environment.

Finally, there's the glut of permission slips that eventually make their way to the office. People, everyone knows that parents are short on time, but think before you fill these forms out and send them in. Here's what NOT to do: Do not staple the check to the middle of the permission slip, thereby creating a hole in the middle of the permission slip and the check. And do not TAPE a five dollar bill to the middle of the permission slip, thereby making it impossible to remove the money without tearing off most of the information on the permission slip. When you fill out the permission slip, don't let your kid fill it out and don't write it like you're a physician filling out a prescription. This might surprise you, but people need to read these things. And don't clean out your change jar to pay for the trip to the zoo so that the envelope weighs 8 pounds and rips open. C'mon!

I know that every school is different. Some have more or less qualified staff members and more or less resources than other schools. Still, I think the office staff is greatly overlooked when giving credit to a school. These are the unsung heroes that rarely get the hugs or admiration that the teachers receive. We assume they're always there and take them for granted on a daily basis.

Next time you go in your child's school, stop in the office and say thank you to the special people behind the scenes. Just keep your distance if you're carrying any germs...or smelly lunches!

28 Comments:

At 1:02 PM , Blogger Killired said...

GREAT insight! I just might print this off and give it to my son's school secretary to hang up as I'm sure she will relate!!!!

here from michele;s...nice blog!

 
At 1:22 PM , Anonymous jude said...

I am guilty of not noticing this kind of stuff. I've only been to the school a few times, but it seems the secretary in the office was chitchatting with the others. Maybe I'll pay more attention next time...

 
At 1:24 PM , Blogger panthergirl said...

God, that was great. I think you're very brave for taking that on, even just temporarily. I pity those women every time I walk into that office.

Thanks for the insight!

Here via michele today...

 
At 1:27 PM , Blogger Carolyn said...

Hi there, Michele sent me!

You bring up some very interesting points. We should all take time to see anothers job from their side of it. I'm sure we'd all be less irritated and more understanding with others if we did :)

 
At 1:31 PM , Blogger Jess Riley said...

Too true! I go to meetings in schools all the time and whenever I sit in the child-size chairs waiting for whatever principal or teacher I'm there for, it's like a marching band of germs and chaos parading in and out through the door.

(Thank you for the nice comment on my blog, by the way! :)

 
At 2:03 PM , Blogger Jean-Luc Picard said...

Well written; that was very informative.

Michele sent me.

 
At 2:06 PM , Blogger margalit said...

Great post. I worked for a year in a big synagogue office and much of what you said applies there as well. It's amazing how stupid people can be, isn't it?

Michele sent me.

 
At 2:16 PM , Blogger Marie said...

Yeah. I substituted for my children's school secretary ONCE! Michele sent me.

 
At 10:01 PM , Anonymous Lifecruiser said...

Hello, Michele sent me.

Great post, great work too, obiously!

Pheeew, sounded like a too hard work....

 
At 10:08 PM , Blogger kontan said...

((((((thank you))))))))

i'm so glad i read this today. it has been a rough week. i'll spare you my rant for the week, feel free to come by and read, but the gist...teachers are people too and they have rules like everyone else. please dont yell at them when they have to call.

from micheles

 
At 10:09 PM , Blogger Canadian Dude said...

Great spost... would never have found this....came from Michele's

 
At 11:26 PM , Blogger Perri said...

who's Michelle?

great post.

 
At 12:51 AM , Blogger owlhaven said...

wow--great post.

 
At 12:51 AM , Blogger Juliabohemian said...

you're a better mom than I in that dept. I hate volunteering to do anything at the school. it seems like they are either asking for time or money in one way or another EVERY day.

 
At 7:21 AM , Anonymous Aging Fabulous said...

You are so right about the germs... I used to volunteer at my children's school when they were little and I picked up every cold going around. I don't know how the school staff stays healthy!

 
At 7:44 AM , Blogger Beanhead said...

I worked in my kids school office for secretary's day a couple years ago it was awful!!! We have a very diverse group of people and about 25% of them speak one of 22 languages. And of course they all came in the day I worked. Our secretaries don't speak the other languages but they sure do know who at our school speaks russian and who speaks bosnian to handle it when it happens. I love our office staff!!

Here from Michele's

 
At 7:49 AM , Blogger Oreo said...

Well, I started this post thinking, yeah, maybe I could volunteer down there for a day & I ended it thinking Thank the LOrd she wrote this, now I'll NEVER offer to volunteer!! Seriously, I've told every one of my children's teachers, I could NOT do what they do! Sounds like the office staff has it much worse.

 
At 8:11 AM , Blogger kenju said...

This sounds like my version of Hell. Thank God I never had to do that when my kids were in school. Just being the "room mother" was chore enough!

 
At 9:15 AM , Blogger Zephra said...

I am going to print this out and take it to my childrens school...I am sure they will love it.

 
At 10:15 AM , Blogger ribbiticus said...

thanks for taking us inside the school office. i guess we should all be appreciative of the people who help run our schools..:)

 
At 2:04 PM , Blogger Ally said...

Oh my. I have just taken a week's temping in the office of local school, starting Monday. I'm *really* scared now! :)

 
At 3:48 PM , Blogger The Mistress of the Dark said...

I go to Curves with a few of the office ladies from our school district. I get to hear all kinds of interesting tales from them.

Here via Michele's. I don't envy their job in the least.

 
At 3:54 PM , Blogger Dak-Ind said...

of all of the influential people in my life growing up, the secretary at my jr high school still sticks out in my mind. she was awesome. she meant so much to me. the really cool thing is that she is still there and my oldest son is at that school now, and likes her too.

 
At 3:54 PM , Blogger Dak-Ind said...

i forgot to mention... michele sent me.

 
At 9:45 PM , Blogger Carmi said...

I will send this to our school's secretary. I always knew her job was hard, but not THIS hard. Consider me educated.

Thanks.

 
At 7:12 AM , Blogger Prego said...

Amen.

My school is a festering germ factory. I remember once hugging a kid - the class yelled, "Ew, he's got ringworm."

Here from Michele today

 
At 7:36 AM , Blogger Viamarie said...

Sharing this has made me realize that the secretary's job is really a though one.

Here from Michele.

 
At 8:43 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely fabulous--laughed so hard I nearly fell off my seat! Thanks for your kind words. I am the Head Secretary at a High School with 1250 students, so we have this much fun every day!

 

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