To help put our children through university, I’ve been teaching at an expensive private college in Los Angeles just on Mondays. I have learned a lot from four people at this college who aren’t even teachers.
George is my boss. He is the Chair of the Business Department. George is about 70 and just loves working. He’s originally from the South and he’s what you might call a “Southern Gentleman.”
He wears a bow tie and speaks very quietly. George is a man of impeccable character. He always does what he says. He listens twice as much as he speaks. He believes in me and gives me space to do what I do well. Some would call him a “servant leader” — I just call him a “Gentleman.”
Ustess is a security guard. He says “good morning” to every student regardless of his or her demeanor. I asked him about his welcoming attitude once and he told me: “Gotta look out for these kids. Some of them look sad. It’s as if they’re lost or confused about life. I can’t be their Papa but I can welcome them to the gift of a new day, every day and try and put a smile on their faces.”
Leo works in the print room. When I first started working there, people told me Leo was miserable and unhelpful because he wears all black. I told them I love the Beatles and they used to wear all black when they were just starting out and so maybe I’ll like Leo too. Leo is synonymous with his name — he’s a big lion. I can tell he’s had a tough start in life. He carries the bruises. I can see them on his face. I can see them tattooed on his skin. I can hear it in the words he chooses to use. But I sense there is a big heart behind that hard exterior.
Elsa is in her late 20’s. She is the cleaner. I have seen the way the students look down on her when they drop their Starbucks trash into the bucket she pushes. They spend more in five minutes than she earns in two hours. Most students don’t even acknowledge her. She’s invisible to most — but not to me, because I know her story.
Elsa has three children and her dream is for her boyfriend to marry her. “I dream of being a bride” she once told me. “I love my man. He is the father of our children. He doesn’t believe in marriage. He says we have a good thing going and he doesn’t want to jinx it but I’d love, one day to say the words, ‘I do.’”
I asked her how she feels when some of these rich kids ignore her, or don’t thank her for her service. She told me: “I know what you mean — I sense their disrespect for me but I have someone who loves me — who has stayed with me. I have been blessed with three beautiful children…anyway, my job is to empty the trash and clean the classrooms. That’s my job and I do it to the very best of my ability.”
So what can we learn from these four wonderful real life characters whom I work with every Monday on Grand and 9th in the City of Angels?
I believe with all my heart that George is perhaps, the best leader I’ve ever worked for. He sees himself as a servant — he turns the organizational pyramid upside down. He has a mindset that he’s meant to be of service to his staff whereas mediocre managers make it all about them.
In Ustess I am reminded of the principle that we cannot change people but we can influence them. I don’t think his life ambition was to be working security in his late 50’s but I believe he has just decided to bloom where he was planted.
I found by treating Leo in a way I would like to be treated, it has yielded a mutually respectful relationship and we make a good partnership. I teach and he prints. I couldn’t teach unless I have prints, and he’d have nothing to print if I didn’t teach. We’re mutually interdependent.
In Elsa I see great dignity — that regardless of how others treat you, she knows who she is. She is satisfied with much in her life and unsatisfied with some aspects…. but she has a peace about her that passes my simple understanding.
Thank you George, Ustess, Leo and Elsa — this teacher says, “Thank you for each, teaching me so much. It’s an honor to serve these students alongside you. Happy New Year! Let’s do this all again in 2019.”
Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaf-ca.com). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper.
For questions or comments, email Paul Butler at [email protected].