Transcending invisibility through the power of story: an analysis of the life journey of Mr. John, a rural school custodian, as told by his granddaughter
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Public school leaders routinely overlook the talents and contributions of blue-collar support staff that can and do play viable roles in the success of schools. Somewhat ironically, a common piece of advice given to first year teachers by more experienced mentors is, Get to know the school secretary and custodian everybody knows they really run the school. Although this phrase is commonly bantered about by educators and informal school lore accords it the status of truth, the school leadership research literature is virtually silent about the contributions such workers can make. In Texas, where there are over one thousand school districts, many of which are rural and stepping stones for career track administrators, it is these community members who work as the secretaries, bus drivers, and custodians that many times serve as the cultural glue helping these districts survive. These invisible workers make important contributions to the coherency of the culture and mission of the school. My white maternal grandfather worked as a custodian in a rural school district for more than fifty-three years. Within the past five years, in the course of conversation, two casual acquaintances volunteered information regarding my grandfathers contributions as a custodian in that school district that later I realized were instrumental in the sense of the project coming to me (Cole & Knowles, 2001). As a rural school custodian with a third grade education, my grandfather lived with multiple oppressive forces in his life. The lack of opportunity for education, the low socio-economic status of his rural family, the marginalization that society deals to those persons who choose dirty work (Meagher, 2002), and the sometimes overt, but often just an unintentional, power struggle with school leadership were all oppressive forces in his life. Whether he consciously realized it or not, my grandfathers behavior (as evidenced by informant conversations) revealed this oppression. He survived, even thrived, and dealt with this oppression through the most effective means he knew of and obviously honed throughout his lifetime. My grandfather used humor as a means of survival. My grandfather was a master storyteller. This is his story.
Maxwell, Gerri M. (2004). Transcending invisibility through the power of story: an analysis of the life journey of Mr. John, a rural school custodian, as told by his granddaughter. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from