You can do a lot of things wrong in public education, but never do this: Never tell a single person you can fix things.

That’s the kiss of death.  If people find out, quit today.  Get a Witness Protection job in fast food.  Otherwise, everyone will hound you. “Can you unjam the copier?” or “My computer’s not working. Can you fix it?”  I’ve fixed computers by plugging them in, but that’s not where my talent lies–public schools don’t have that many computers.

The life and death machine for teachers is the copier.

“I’m going to sneak out of advisory a minute early to beat the copy line,” I tell my friend next door.  She’ll watch my class.  We have a nice quid pro quo so we can do things like pee or jump the copy line.

There’s an economic principle I learned studying Soviet history–when resources are scarce, people hoard resources.  A working copier is beyond scarce–it’s downright endangered.  To find one is to strike gold.  When that happens, you’ll want to copy everything under the sun–just in case.  This creates quite a line.

“You’re teaching ‘The Book of Kells?'” I ask a person making a small rainforest worth of copies.

“No.  That’s just in case.”

We all copy things just in case because we never know if the machine will work again and we need papers stockpiled.

Today I have three things to copy, but then I see an abandoned grocery flier.  Maybe I’ll copy that, too.  Just in case.  I’m sure I can use it in an emergency.  Kids could compare prices of healthy foods to unhealthy foods or write about shipping costs for non-local groceries.  They’d calculate their carbon footprint researching exotic ingredients. Who knows?  I might never use the copies–but I’d have them.  Just in case.  

If you’ve ever wondered, that’s what happens to the inside of a teacher’s mind after years of deprivation.  People in the corporate world go to the copier and push the button–no racing each other or cannibal mindset.  90% of teachers will trip each other in the hall to be first in the copy line.

“Oh, sorry.  Did you fall flat on your face?”  I’d say.

I got to the copier first…” is what I’d think.  

Once you’re at the copier, you’re at the copier.  Everyone has to wait until you’re done.  I have a lot of copies to make–could take days.  While I’ll let a senior citizen with two items get in front of me at the grocery store–he has less time to live,  just try cutting the copier line.

Last week I didn’t rush to the copier.  I walked and got there third because of a traffic jam in the hall.  I won’t make that mistake again.

Today, I forget to leave early, but I speed walk.  I arrive first.  God is with me.  Both machines are working.  I break a cardinal rule–I put my copies on both.  I’m a veteran teacher.  I’d like to see someone try and stop me.

My papers come out quickly.  I feel a little guilt.

Then, it happens.

I hear the noise.  Lights flash.  Crunch.  Copier Jam.

A bunch of codes and letters blink on the screen.  One spells “FU.”  I think the copier’s mocking me.  Then I realize it’s showing the locations of the jam.  I could walk away and leave it, but I need twenty more stapled copies and this is the only copier that staples.

Nobody’s around.  I decide to fix it.

“This happens because you guys don’t leave paper in the machines,” said Copy Repair Guy.  He was tearing the guts out of the machine I don’t use.  Using that copier is like playing Russian Roulette with five bullets.  “If you left the paper in, it wouldn’t damage all the parts and they would work.”  He tells me normal people fill the machines and leave the extra for the next person.

But of course, teachers can’t do that–we’re issued a certain amount of paper.  We take every last piece back.  I shared with a friend last week, even though not sharing would have meant she was out of paper.  She would’ve been forced to leave,  taking her small rainforest with her.  I was next in line.  Since she was a good friend I relented.  I contemplated saying no, however.

Mental note: That was  your Christmas present.

I look both ways.  The coast is clear.  I stick my tiny hands into places where human parts don’t belong in a plugged-in machine.  I’m a lion tamer with her head in the lion’s mouth or a kid picking lint out of moving cotton looms during the Industrial Revolution.

I pull out papers and shreds one by one. I check each lever and gear.  The lights go off.   I shut the machine, pat it twice, say thanks.  Copying resumes.  I’m back in my room in time to make a cup of coffee.

I know the week will be good.

Because–keep this secret between you and me–I am… The Copy Whisperer.


This story is not from my book, Don’t Sniff the Glue:  A Teacher’s Misadventures in Education Reform.  If you liked it, you will love the book.  I’ve priced it on Kindle so even a teacher can afford to enjoy it.  I’d love to hear what you think!