Though it is more than 25 years old and as a whole a pretty uneven movie, when I think about my job being accurately portrayed (or at least lampooned) in film, I think of the 1984 Nick Nolte film Teachers. One scene, in particular, has always worked and will always work. Mr. Stiles, nicknamed “Ditto” because of the amount of worksheets he produces, is in the main office using an old-fashioned mimeograph when another teacher approaches him and yells, “You’re always hogging that machine!” She then proceeds to squirt ink on his face and smack him around before being physically hauled away.
Now, I’ve never attacked another faculty member with ink, but I definitely can say that there are moments when I have become violently angry at a copier, using several four-letter words that are wholly inappropriate for a classroom but okay for the teacher’s lounge whenever the Risograph craps out in the middle of making 120 copies of my four-page, double-sided worksheet. Most office environments no longer have archaic copying systems like mine and are able to invest in something like a Bizhub; however, your average public school is not most offices. Since we cannot afford the Cadillac of copiers, we duplicate, we collate, we stack, we sort, and we manually staple everything we produce.
I am sure there is no formal statistic for the amount of time teachers spend putting papers together, but ask any teacher and he will tell you that at least a couple of times each marking period, his planning period is spent with the pages of a worksheet packet spread out among the rows of desks in his classroom in the correct order so he can move from page to page and stack then, then staple the stack together and move on to the next. I’ve done this dance myself, both in my classroom and at home and usually it takes me as long as two or three hours to put everything together.
I suppose that I could be referred to as a paper monkey more than a teacher for whom such work is beneath, but I have to say that I think there is something beautiful in the act of collating and stapling. No, really. In some way, I’m creating music whenever I make packets and in the past couple of years this music has been enhanced by the instrument that is the Martin-Yale CL6 Collator.
Grab it from the faculty lounge and carry it down the hall and most of the people you pass will look at the CL6 and ask, “What is that?” Honestly, it’s an odd-looking device—a big gray box with slots for stacking papers and a handle for pulling them forward. Even I can’t help but wonder where it came from, because it seems like something dug up from the 1980s. For all I know, it was sitting in the school storage closet with an old mimeograph, collecting dust and someone picked it out of the other velveteen office rabbits to be used again.
The CL6 works as follows: you put each separate page of your document to the slots of the collator and pull the handle forward. That handle controls a padded lever in each slot that gently grabs the top sheet of paper and brings it forward so that the stack is in the proper order. Then it’s time to staple and set aside. Does it save time? Sure. Does it make me look a tad ridiculous? You bet.
But it’s beautiful. Load, pull, stack, staple. Load, pull, stack, staple. Load, pull, stack, staple. Load, pull, stack, staple. If you listen to it long enough, you begin to hear the opening of Pink Floyd’s “Money”—which is ironic considering that if we had any money for public education, everyone would have sleek new state-of-the-art copying systems instead of a CL6. Honestly, though, I don’t know if I’d want one. Sure, a high-speed copier that collates and staples would be a nice addition to my work day, but a Bizhub and its ilk is the autotune of photocopying. It’s slick, it’s nice, and it can make even the crappiest of documents look slick and professional. But there’s no real work there. What I do involves old world craftsmanship; my packets have a soul that high-speed copies never could.
I honestly thought that my symphony of copying, collating, and stapling made me a practitioner of a fading art—the last of a dying breed , if you will. But to my surprise, Martin-Yale not only still manufactures the CL6 but it retails for $129.99. There is an astounding amount of digital gadgetry that retails for less than $129.99 and is extremely more sophisticated than what seemed to be a piece that belongs in some sort of office supply museum or an EPCOT Center exhibit called “Spaceship Office” where an animatronic narrator would tell you about “Offices of Yore” while soothing synth music played in the background.
Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised. When you are plugged in all the time to the latest gadgets, you have a tendency to forget that not everyone is as plugged in as you are. I mean, guys like “Ditto” will always exist because they have been doing their thing their way for years and will probably die passing out the same worksheet they created before they first got tenure. And the CL6 will outlive my own tenure at my school, helping generation after generation of educators to create final exam review packets in a timelier manner.