She’s worked at Greenfield Elementary in Birmingham schools for 18 years since transitioning from her first career as a mom—a role that served as great preparation for her current job, she says.
What does your job entail?
My job is taking care of people. Everything else is secondary, although my responsibilities are great. I take care of enrollment, helping parents, working for the principal, budget, payroll, ordering supplies, dealing with substitutes, making sure there’s coverage in every classroom. Whatever the teachers’ needs are during the day, I’m a phone call or email away. I’m the school nurse, too. We’ve had to give insulin injections, medications, breathing treatments for children who have asthma. I’m a security officer, because I open the building and make sure that our visitors are reasonably secure to be in our building. My desk is my real working hub.
You have an amazing skill set. What prepared you for it?
When I was a child, I wanted to grow up and be a mom. And I joke now, “Be careful what you wish for,” because I’m really mothering. I mother the children. Sometimes the parents need gentle guidance with a voice of experience, like I remember when I was a first-time mom with my kindergartener coming to school. Of course, the teachers sometimes need an ear to bend, and you are there for everybody. You’ve got the district expecting things also. But, you know, it can be simple things, like a kind return note on email, that make a person’s day. Everyone is dealing with so much stress, it’s important to step back and understand that what really matters is people.
What do the children come to you needing?
Someone to listen. Sometimes just a hug. Or if they’re sick and vomiting, we take care of them, we contact their parents, we tell them everything’s going to be okay. I get to know the children, so I know who really has the stomachache. If this child never comes to the office, and they come and have that tummy-ache, I know they really are not feeling well. There are others who I know are just anxious, and something happened at home. I have a blanket and cot for them to rest. If parents can’t come and pick up their child, they might spend a lot of their sick time here with me.
What’s a situation where you’re juggling multiple priorities at the same time?
When a substitute doesn’t show up and we’re trying to cover a classroom, and I have a parent at my desk with a concern, and a child just fell and needs an ice pack. The calmer I am, the better. I have a side ear, too. Somebody can be having a conversation over here, and not that I’m trying to be nosy, but I can interject and say, “Well, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Let’s try this instead.” I’m almost like an octopus with arms in eight different directions at the same time.
Isn’t there a little magic involved sometimes?
I have to be creative. Let’s say they’re going on a field trip and a child forgot to pack a lunch, I start running around. I always have something hidden, like snacks or water, a juice box, something. So we create a lunch for this kid to miraculously eat on the field trip. Or if they mess themselves and the bus is waiting for them, I have a drawer full of extra pants and shirts. A little girl once said to me, “Don’t you have pink jeans?” And I said, “Look, I’m not JCPenney.”
Isn’t it true—a great secretary is worth her weight in gold?
My daughter teaches in Arizona, and I always say to her, “How are the secretaries in your building? Be nice to them, because they will help you whenever you have a problem. Don’t overlook how important they are.” That goes for all support staff, the parapros, the noon aides, everybody who comes in contact with the children. They all give extra every single day.