Who Ran Dumbledore’s Library? The Importance of Non-teaching Staff
If I challenged you to name some inspiring educators from popular culture, you wouldn’t be short of a list of names. You might say Albus Dumbledore, John Keating, LouAnne Johnson, Ms. Frizzle. We have been taught all our lives that a good teacher can change everything. They can give us a well- rounded respect for authority, love us and most of all, they can inspire us. These fictional characters are the reason so many young people want to be educators. They imagine that by the end of their first day on the job, young people will suddenly ‘get’ Shakespeare or stand on their desks screaming “Oh Captain, my Captain!”. While this is definitely not true (it takes a long time to become a really good teacher and inspirational moments are often few and far between), the image is enduring.
Now, a different challenge. Name an inspiring educator that isn’t a teacher. It’s harder, right? This is because when we think of schools, we invariably imagine teachers. They are the ones that as children we saw every day, and to the outside eye they are the ones that make sure a school runs. I can’t imagine that any child is writing “Dear diary, when I grow up I desperately want to be a school administrator” because it’s just not a sexy sounding job. This is the problem; while teachers, of course, work incredibly hard, they are not the only cogs that keep a school running. That is down to countless support and administrative staff who are all too often forgotten when we consider educational establishments.
These people are the receptionists, finance officers, librarians and countless others. They are not sent cards by parents or bought a lovely bottle of wine to enjoy but those who are forgotten. Those who are consistently denied pay rises because of unions that are not strong enough or willing enough to fight. They are not replaced when others leave but instead more work is piled upon already stretched departments. They are under appreciated; by parents, teachers and management.
It’s important for schools to run smoothly otherwise education is interrupted and students can’t reach their full potential. Let’s look at a specific example. Say a teacher would like to invite a visitor to the school; this is fantastic practice as it will enrich learning and provide the experience of an external point of view. While the teacher in this example will choose the visitor and contact them, it will take countless administrative and support members of staff to make the visit run smoothly. Emails will be sent to parents, governors and external partners, if the visitor is to be paid they will need to be paid quickly and efficiently, rooms will need to be set up for the visit, if the visitor wants a cuppa and a sandwich it will need to be provided and so many other tiny tasks that are completed by support staff.
I am one of the support staff. While I have many dear and wonderful friends who are teachers, I have been patronised and underappreciated more times than I can count on two hands. My qualifications have been questioned by newly qualified teachers and I have been asked many times, “what exactly do you do all day?” while being simultaneously told just how busy that person is. I was a school librarian for 6 years and I can honestly say I helped children every single day. Sometimes I truly inspired and helped spark a love of reading. Sometimes I just made them laugh and offered them a safe space away from a classroom. I am proud of every single moment that I spent in a school but I am also angry at the way I and my fellow administrative staff were and are treated. Nationwide, we are paid substantially less than our teaching counterparts (it’s barely a living wage) and year after year we have to justify our worth. When a school is in financial trouble, it is almost always the non-teaching staff that are made redundant first which in the current climate doesn’t make any of us feel secure and appreciated.
In my last school I felt respected and appreciated 90% of the time and that crappy 10% of the time was caused by people I didn’t respect or like anyway but it wasn’t always like that. I started as an assistant librarian and even though my qualifications were sturdy and on par with many teachers, I often felt lesser. I had administrative work pushed on me that teachers couldn’t be bothered to do, I was expected to look after the most horrible of children with no support because their teachers couldn’t cope with them in the classroom and I was patronised because of the ill-founded belief that I spent all day stamping books.
In my first year as a school librarian I regretted the fact that I had chosen not to be a teacher. It was only once I became the head of a department that I gained the confidence to meet with teachers as true equals and say no to work. I was lucky that my colleagues and management allowed me to do this, something that is not afforded to most support staff. It was only when I was seen as a member of teaching staff that I was respected as a professional.
When I talk about being a member of non teaching staff, the discussion invariably becomes about how hard teachers work. It becomes a game of one-upmanship and that means the original conversation is forgotten. This article is not about teachers (I promise, you’ll cope. There are plenty of other articles to go around) so take it as read that I know you work hard. You stretch yourself every single day and you are wildly underpaid. For once, let’s think about the other members of staff in schools. For once, let us have our day in the sun.
It’s difficult to offer any hard and fast solutions to these problems. More money is always a welcome thing and would help non teaching staff to feel appreciated, but, more money doesn’t solve everything. There needs to be respect. We don’t want a ticker tape parade every time we complete a task that is part of our job but we also don’t want to be taken advantage of any more. We don’t want to be shouted at by parents and patronised by management. We are professionals in our own right and we take our work seriously. Shouldn’t others take it seriously too?