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You've Got a Friend

Investing Time in Students can Reap Benefits Beyond Expectations

Dave Arnold

"You reap what you sow." I never gave much thought to those words. 

Then, after 25 years as an education support professional (ESP), I saw what I was reaping when it came to the students at my elementary school.

When fall hunting season hits, you can safely bet that you'll have to search a vast area of Illinois woodlands to find me on a weekend.

After a recent outdoor outing, my Jeep and I were only a few miles from home when the right rear tire decided that it had been in this world long enough. I safely came to a halt along the roadside and found that there was very little rubber left on the rim. Fortunately, I had a spare.

On a Country Road

I was in the process of getting my jack when I heard the screech of brakes behind me. I looked up to see a familiar face. The young man behind the wheel had been a freshman in high school when I started working as a custodian in 1982. He had also been a frequent visitor to my janitor's room in search of heart-to-heart talks.

My young friend was small for his age during those years. I always tried to encourage his athletic aspirations, especially after he patiently endured extensive bench warming throughout ballgames. Now, his sons were also visitors to my workroom, which sometimes seconds as a science lab and student center.

By the roadside, I thanked our former student for his offer to help, but assured him that I had things under control. He said that he was pressed for time, but wasn't about to pass me up if I needed help. He then added that he knew I would never pass him by if he were in need of help.

That's when it hit me that we can reap great dividends when we nurture the growth and development of students. They don't usually forget.

Students Remember You

After my friend left, I was back to changing the tire and watched several cars pass by. But, once again I heard the sound of brakes screeching and looked up to see two teenage brothers climbing out of their pickup. Once again, they were students that I had been close to back in the day.

I had grown up with their parents, and their mother is currently our school district's second-grade teacher. These boys wouldn't take no for an answer and insisted that they help me change the tire. Even though I didn't really need the help, it was good to see the boys and catch up on their lives.

The expired-tire experience provided a good lesson for me. It confirmed my theory that the majority of young people are good-natured and appreciative of the help that ESPs, administrators and teachers give them. I think the media often exploits the small percentage of bad examples at the cost of telling uplifting student stories.

More Valuable Than Gold

In May, I will celebrate my 25th year as a custodian for my school district in Brownstown, Illinois. I'm reasonably certain that there won't be a gold watch presentation or huge celebration. I really doubt that anyone will even notice.

But, there is a long list of students out there who will remember me as their custodian. And it won't only be because I polished floors and cleaned pipes and drains. It will be because I treated them as I like to be treated.

Does this make me special? No way. I believe that I'm no different than any ESP or other educator when it comes to enjoying life and helping children in every way possible. It's evident from my roadside mishap that our displays of kindness toward students will be returned when given the chance. This is good because you never know when you might need help from a former student when stranded on a secluded country road.  

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.