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How Custodians Face Stereotypes and Underappreciation Every Day

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Every morning around 1:30 a.m., while almost all are fast asleep, Isaias Hernandez wakes up to a quiet home and gets ready to drive 22 miles to work. He arrives at Cal State Fullerton (CSUF) at 3 a.m. or sometimes even earlier, and begins his work as one of the lead custodians. Vacuuming, mopping, cleaning windows, and taking out the trash are some of his everyday duties.

Hernandez says that there are times where he encounters some very unpleasant surprises waiting for him. He states that bathrooms are his least favorite place to clean because students realize just how hard custodians work, or how many unnoticed things they do to contribute to the school.

Clean. Sweep. Repeat.

Screenshot 2016-02-05 at 6.00.02 AMThe daily life of a custodian is not just the basic “clean out the toilet, and wipe up the vomit” routine that most students think it is. It is much, much more than that. Custodians do various jobs around the school that a lot of people don’t even notice. They help clean the school by doing things from mopping floors to taking out the garbage, from sanitizing water fountains to restocking bathroom products, and everything in between.   

Many students like Austin P., a 7th grade student at Jefferson Junior High School, don’t realize how long they work. When asked what he thought the daily life of a custodian is like, he said, “I usually see them working from 5 [or] 6 in the morning to about 5 [or] 6 after school…” Although he is partly accurate, he is also forgetting about something. Custodians are in full swing all day or in some cases all night long. They work in shifts; some stay at  schools late at night when no one is even there, while another group of custodians come very early the next morning to prepare for the coming day. Some custodians, even choose to stay before or after their work hours to help contribute to the school.

Screenshot 2016-02-05 at 5.59.29 AMSome like to coach sports, some choose to lead a club, and others choose to just volunteer their time to make the school a better place to thrive. For example, Jefferson Junior High School’s custodians are quite polite; they excuse themselves when in the way of someone else, or they smile and nod. Although there are a fair amount of students that talk to the custodians daily, there are many more that completely ignore the custodians. In many cases, no matter how often students are encouraged to thank the custodians, the school community rarely means it from their heart. According to Safiya B., a 6th grader at Jefferson Junior High School, “We all, as a community don’t appreciate custodians enough for what they do, because we do have teacher appreciation days, but we don’t have a day just to honor the custodians.” Along with their rigorous job, comes an income that in many cases does not seem to be enough.  

Not only do custodians have a very tiring job, but they also work for an income that is a little over a half that of a teacher’s income. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average custodian earns about $10.78 an hour, which is about $22,320 per year. Even though custodians do a lot more physically straining work than teachers, they shouldn’t receive a lower income because they don’t interact with students as much. Not only are they looked down upon, but they also have quite a few stereotypes placed on them.

Our Molded Minds

The first image of a custodian that comes to mind for many students is a black or Latino man with a slightly dirty, light blue t-shirt according to “The Truly Diversified Faculty.” Although

to a school building, and that without them our school would fall apart. Custodians are like the cement that holds all of the bricks together; without them, one gust of wind could knock us over. Along with these two students, there are quite a few students out there who really appreciate the custodians for what they do. For example, Austin P. said, “I thought they [custodians] were all the same. I didn’t think they were respectful, but then I learned how great the custodians here at Jefferson are. And, they’re pretty great!” Along with that, he also said, “It’s those small things that we students start to recognize and thank them for, because what would we do without them?”

Although, some schools have been slowly accepting and appreciating custodians, there are still too many that don’t. We need to start appreciating our custodians, start helping them out, stop stereotyping them, and start getting to know them better. Doing this will help our school blossom like a flower. Why is it so hard for us to mess it up for no reason, either out of carelessness or just for the joy of it. Not only does he face the everyday foolish messes students leave behind, but he also faces quite a few stereotypes because of his last name, Hernandez, which is commonly believed to be a Hispanic surname.

Many others like Isaias Hernandez also face stereotypes, which aren’t necessarily racial ones, but are still just as bad. Along with that, they also face underappreciation even after all the work that they do. Why do they face these problems? Because students don’t know what the daily life of a custodian is really like. 

Mike Stahulak coaches football and wrestling on top of being the head custodian. Even though that will mean leaving even later than usual, and not getting paid any extra, they still choose to do this. Why? Because many custodians are very kind, and selfless people and because they care for their students. In Harper Hall, school custodian Mary Kavan’s favorite part of her job is meeting the many students she works around every day. She makes it a point to get to know the students’ names and interests.

The Custodian Career

So many students don’t realize what a custodian does as part of their job, and how difficult it is. Lots of students take the custodians for granted, assuming they are unimportant people with unimportant jobs.

JoAnne Green is the lead custodian at Middletown School, where she opens the building each day for about 450 students in preschool through second grade. Her day begins at 4:10 a.m., about an hour before she arrives at the school to turn on lights, clean the foyer and hallways and check soap dispensers ahead of the students. “You set up a routine, and you get used to it,” she said. “That’s how you get everything done.” Most messes are normal after-lunch crumbs or water bottle spills in the hallway. Less savory tasks like removing playground rats or cleaning vomit are weekly, sometimes daily, occurrences. Even though her job is very difficult, she loves “the little ones,” as she calls the students. The children’s letters are taped to her office window, rife with misspellings in thanking her for keeping their school clean and safe. 

Most custodians put in lot of effort into making sure that the school is a safe place for students, teachers, and other administrators to work and learn. Generally, custodians tend to be there some custodians that match that description, there are so many more that don’t. Schools have female custodians, and not all custodians are Black or Latino. Sadly, nearly half of all Black and Latina women scientists were thought to be custodians according to a study done by STEM. These scientists said that many people, even their friends believed that they were custodians. Also, they faced lots of rude stereotypical comments due  to their race.

Safiya B., a 6th grader at Jefferson Junior High School describes how she imagines the stereotypical custodian. “They probably wear some sort of belt with utilities, have a blue t-shirt on, have wild and white hair, are sometimes grumpy, and are carrying a mop and a tool cart.” Anna A., an 8th grader at Jefferson similar, but also adds that she sees carrying a mop Junior High says something similar, but also adds that she sees them as an American male. But, only 65% percent of custodians are male, and although male custodians do dominate the male to female ratio, 35% of custodians are still female. That means that female custodians make up a little over a third of all custodians.

Although there are many schools where this sort of stereotyping takes place, there are a fair amount of schools where custodians are treated with lots of respect and gratitude. For example, some, like Mr. Kruk and Mr. Stahulak, custodians at Jefferson, say that they feel that they are very appreciated for what they do. They say that students really like them, even if there are times when they do small things around the school that go unnoticed.

Anna A. and Safiya B., students at Jefferson Junior High both think very highly of custodians and say that it is very important to do these things for custodians? Is there some sort of bias put on us to make us believe what we do?

Nowadays more and more custodians are starting to have a better experience with their job, there are still so many custodians who are facing problems like underappreciation and stereotyping due to the lack of knowledge on a custodian’s daily life. For those reasons, it is crucial that the number is brought down to zero.

-Lavina Thadani

Works Cited

“A Day in the Life of a Janitor: A Sweeping Tale of Mike Miller.” The Pony Express. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

“A Day in the Life of a Custodian.” The Frederick News-Post. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

Attal, Anna. Personal interview. 12 Oct. 2015.

Bhanpuri, Safiya. Personal interview. 14 Oct. 2015.

“Black and Latina Women Scientists Sometimes Mistaken for Janitors.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

“Custodian Job Description.” Snagajob. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

“Custodian Salary (United States) United States Home Change Country Don’t See What You Are Looking For?Get A Free Custom Salary Report ».” Custodian Salary. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

Fryborg, Stephanie A., and Ernesto Javier Martinez, eds. The Truly Diversified Faculty. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

“Janitor.” Daily Nebraskan. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

Kruk, Mike. Personal interview. 10 Oct. 2015.

Peyton, Austin. Personal interview. 14 Oct. 2015.

Stahulak, Mike. Personal interview. 10 Oct. 2015.

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