Debate Magazine

The Story of the Photocopier (from the Archives)

By Stevemiranda

One of my earliest staff meetings as a teacher—this was way back in the fall of 2000—featured a fascinating conversation about a photocopier.

Our school had just purchased a new machine and the principal couldn’t figure out where to put it. So, we voted. There were two possible locations: the north end of the second floor, and the south end of the third floor. Some teachers gave impassioned speeches in favor of Option No. 1. Not surprisingly, they were from folks whose classrooms were near the north end of the second floor.

Another group strongly supported Option No. 2. Again, not coincidentally, they had classrooms conveniently located near the south end/third floor.

The marketing teacher finally called for a vote. Teachers raised their hands. Option No. 1 earned 40 votes. Then he called for supporters of Option No. 2 to raise their hands. He counted up the votes and announced: “It’s a tie.”

That was my introduction to the realities of workplace politics in schools. In 10 years, it was always that way. Teachers are given limited resources to accomplish an impossible task: get 150 kids interested in your subject even though the vast majority of them are in your classroom against their will. In that kind of environment, under that kind of pressure, of course the teachers’ interests are going to be parochial.

Administrators have it even harder: they’re responsible for the performance of teachers who can close their classroom door at any time, enjoy tremendous autonomy, and are almost impossible to fire.

The fundamental structure of our schools is dysfunctional. Tinkering around the margins is a waste of time. We have to build something new in which teachers, administrators and students all have the same goal.

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