The front office of an elementary school is a challenging, fast-paced, exhausting place to work, but it’s also rewarding in ways I never thought possible. I remember when COVID first started, there was this surge of appreciation for people who worked at the school… but that seems to have gone to hell overnight. Instead, that appreciation has been replaced with a whole lot of blame, as parents need someone to be at fault for the stress and their child’s behavior and academic struggles. This often falls on the front office staff, because we answer their calls and hear it all. I literally say, “What the f*ck?” no less than 20 times a day. What parents see as just answering phones is actually a mentally exhausting list of things not to forget and rarely stopping to catch your breath, much less eat an entire meal. There are days I do not have time to eat lunch and bathroom breaks are rare gifts.
Here’s a small glimpse into a day at the front office: Today, I had eight students in the office because they were sick. Each one’s temperature was checked, and they were questioned about their symptoms. I then gave Timmy and Cathy trash cans in case they needed to throw up, pulled up each student’s information to call home, received 14 phone calls in between, answered the front door six times, grabbed Freddy’s lunch box that he left in the car, wrote eight tardy slips, replied to the email updating how Johnny was to get home after school and let his teacher know, Susie needed a Band-Aid, Ashley needs a mask… wait, so does Brittany and Kevin. Oh, there goes the walkie letting us know a student is in trouble and on their way up. Now one of the sick kids is projectile vomiting in the bathroom. Oh, a teacher just called, and they need to be relieved so they can go to the bathroom, and Cathy’s parents arrived annoyed that we are sending her home even though she threw up, too. “Hey Mom, just a reminder that Cathy has to be vomit-free for 24 hours before she can return to school.” “WHAT?! I have WORK!! I hate COVID. Don’t you realize she doesn’t have COVID?!” “Ma’am I hate COVID, too, but this has nothing to do with that. The rule has always been 24 hours.” “Well, maybe next time I will just lie and say she didn’t throw up.” Facepalm. Then over the next 30 minutes, the other sick kids will also get checked out — but now we have a nosebleed, a Kindergartener crying because they miss Mommy and just need a hug, there’s a bus change, the boys’ bathroom is overflowing, Riley needs her medicine, Jack forgot to turn in his field trip permission slip, picture day flyers have to be handed out, and it’s almost time for lunch duty! And this is all in less than an hour… and we have six more to go. Maybe if I had just a few more arms. Thankfully I have an amazing partner in the front office to do battle with, I mean divide and conquer all of the tasks, and occasionally look over at each other and say “We got this!” and “What in the world is going on right now?!”
There are days that the front office staff gets cursed at, called names, and yelled at by more than one unhappy parent because we are enforcing rules that apply to everyone, or because we are sending their sick kid home, or because we are the ones sharing information about their child’s behavior (as if we had anything to do with it). But there are also days where parents bring us flowers, coffee, or treats to say THANK YOU for everything we do because they get it. They understand that we work our butts off for their child and the other 450 students. I have comforted sick, sad, and extremely mad kids every single day. I have applied Band-Aids, gotten ice, stopped nosebleeds, caught vomit, and been coughed directly on more times than I can count because we are also the clinic. I have let students vent to me when they feel like no one listens or understands them. I have listened to frustrated parents who just needed a sounding board and even hugged crying ones who are dealing with heartbreaking life circumstances. I sometimes have to have “come to Jesus” chats with kids and help them get their life together in a moment to prevent them from getting into even more trouble. I have heard things that would absolutely break your heart as a mother, and I just have to be a loving, supportive, and steadfast person in their lives.
What makes all of this worth it? It’s the little moments. The genuine excitement from a student to see you every morning. The “thank you for listening” comments. It’s the handmade cards, and the look on a child’s face when I have somehow made things better. I have made my share of mistakes, but no one could ever say that I don’t love the students with my whole heart. With that said, parents, PLEASE just be kind to the front office staff at your children’s school. We are there for your children in those quiet moments, the ones you may not even know about because we’ve made it better so that they forget they were ever even upset. Even if you scream at me, call me names, or hang up on me, I will still greet your child with a smile every morning. I will still open their milk during lunch duty and tie their shoes 10 times a week. I will still try to help them with their school work when they are in the office for getting into trouble. I will still notice when something is wrong and do everything I can to make it better. I will walk them to their car in the pouring rain keeping them covered with my umbrella while getting absolutely drenched myself. I will do all of these things because I love your child, but just know that kindness in return goes a long way. And hey, if you do lose your cool because you’re human, do what some parents do and call back a few minutes later and say, “Hey, I’m really sorry for yelling at you, I know it’s not your fault.”