Heat pervaded the innards of the copy machine. There was no way to avoid it, so Mr. Webb aimed his arm for the center of it. His arm went in sideways and he could not see where it went. Carefully, deliberately, he let his fingers stroke the air ahead of them for a tiny brushing against that substance most familiar to teachers: paper.
Ever so gently, he discovered the demon corner of paper, the devil in the details. Blindly, but with precision granted by his heightened sense of touch – well, to be honest, there were times when he was an absolute butterfingers, but he had to believe in himself in times like these if he was to have any hope of clearing the entire jam. So, back to that heightened sense of touch, he used it wisely, cautiously, delicately, to pinch the paper corner between his forefinger and long finger and then tug it out of the press where it was pinched.
He pulled it out, but that was not the whole of the battle. Now, it had to come back out. If it fell out from between his fingers, it was all over for the copier, that grand, magnificent beast.
Seconds felt like centuries.
But success was Mr. Webb’s, as he completed his operation without any loss.
Right about then, Mr. Friendly got his job going on the other copier. “Wouldn’t you know, the thing was just out of paper and nobody cared to look at the error on the screen. Tsk, tsk, tsk!”
Seriously? That was all that it took to get the other copier going? And that was the good one, the one that didn’t overheat as easily. Well, at least it was going, and that meant Mr. Webb wouldn’t get crucified for printing a 36-page packet, 20 times over. With front and back printing, that was 360 pages, which, at even the top speed of 60 pages per minute, was a 6-minute job. When it was already after 4PM on the day before school started, nobody wanted to wait 6 minutes plus time to clear jams before doing their job, let alone if others were ahead of them. Mr. Friendly’s timely loading of paper meant that the line would move faster, the frustration would recede, and everything was going to be all right.
15 minutes later, Mr. Webb was finished with his printing. Thankfully, all the other jams didn’t involve any paper tearing. Still, that copier had a serious attitude problem. If it was a kid, Mr. Webb would refer it to the anger management counselor.
The anger management counselor was a really nice touch at Teller High. Mr. Gil Gutierrez was a real ace in the hole, when it came to the poker game of student discipline. Say some kid was really acting out, really having a bad day… say this kid was having a bad day, nearly every day. He’d have his altercation all scripted out:
“Ricardo, you need to settle down right this instant!”
“Yeah? And what? You’re gonna send me to the office?”
“You bet I will!”
“Well then, get busy with that referral, ’cause I ain’t stopping.”
At which point, the teacher would write up the referral and Ricardo would get an hour-long vacation from school as he cooled his jets in the assistant principal’s office. Mr. Webb knew that strategy and had a counter for it. His discussion went like this:
“OK, Ricardo, that’s about enough.”
“You gonna write me up?”
Mr. Webb reached for his paperwork. “Already on it. You are leaving the room.”
Ricardo would almost nod, satisfied his work was done so quickly.
“There, get on out of here. Come back when you’re ready.”
Ricardo would grab the paper, but it wasn’t an office referral. Noting the unusual weight and lack of triplicate, Ricardo would look down. Confused, he’d ask, “Who’s Mr. Gutierrez?”
“He’s the anger management counselor. His office is across from the cafeteria, by the courtyard.”
“I thought I was going to the office?”
Mr. Webb made his best surprised face. “Why would I send you to the office?”
“Because of the way I was acting and stuff.”
“Well, did you want to go to the office, or did you want to go somewhere where you could do better than the office?”
Mr. Webb smiled. “You don’t need the office. You need Mr. Gutierrez.”
Ricardo would then walk down to Gutierrez’ office. He’d come back, half an hour later, apologize, and then, with regular sessions with Mr. Gutierrez, he’d get to where he wouldn’t act out so often or to such an extreme. Mr. Webb would meet with Mr. Gutierrez and learn what was pushing Ricardo’s buttons so that he could do something different in his class. It didn’t work every time, but 90% of the time, it really helped. Maybe five of the 200-odd teachers at Teller actually referred kids to Mr. Gutierrez, but it made all the difference for those kids that went to see him.
And who should come around the corner, but Mr. Gutierrez? He feigned surprise. “Mr. Webb! I thought you were in jail!”
Mr. Webb feigned equal surprise. “And I thought you were dead!”
Both responded, “Well, things got better!” Their greeting ritual really got good laughs from students, but they enjoyed it just as much on their own.
“So, Dean, are you all ready for tomorrow?”
“Helluva question to ask me at 4:30 in the afternoon, Gil. Good thing that I got my copies. So, yes, I’m all ready. I think.” Mr. Webb grinned.
“Hey, belief is everything. If you believe you’re ready, then you’re ready.”
“How about you?”
“Got my act together. Say, is it hot in your room?”
“No, it’s freezing. It’s always like that when they kick on the AC for the start of the year.”
“Man, it’s boiling in my office. I’d put in a window unit, if I could open my windows.”
“Come and see how cold it is in my room. It was tolerable around lunch, but now we can hang meat in there.”
Mr. Webb led Mr. Gutierrez to his room. “Touch the handle.”
Mr. Gutierrez grabbed the metal door handle. “Wow! It’s like ice! If I lick it, my tongue’s gonna stick!”
Mr. Webb opened the door and the arctic blast poured into the hallway. Although it was August in Texas, Mr. Webb pointed to a small supply of blankets in one of his closets. “Oh yeah, I’m ready. I’m on the same register as the cafeteria and the lecture hall, so if those places are warm, I get to freeze. Every year, this happens, and every year, the custodian adjusts my vents just so after two weeks, then it’s fine until we kick over to heat.”
“Why is it two weeks?”
“That’s how long the request takes to work through the system. He could do it today, but he doesn’t have a work order, so it’s unauthorized work and he could get fired for it. Isn’t that crazy? Naw, I got blankets. I can survive.”
Bad phyiscal plant, goofy kids, inservices, book room drama, copy room trauma… yes, Mr. Webb could survive. So long as the central administration didn’t go completely insane like EDCISD’s did, Mr. Webb could survive. That’s why he chose to work in Garson ISD: their administration had had a long history of not being completely insane.
Mr. Gutierrez left and Mr. Webb straightened up a few things, putting his finishing touches on his room layout, with benches, tables, and chairs organized to allow for good traffic flow and orientation towards his projection screen that hung just over his left shoulder. Copies went on the cart next to the book cart, along with textbook checkout forms. Everything was ready to go. Mr. Webb turned off the light and locked his door.
In the hallway, the cheerleaders were hanging “Welcome back Titans!” banners in the hallway. They’d finally gotten to this part of the building, so they were almost ready to go home. Some of them could be full of themselves, but for the most part, they were some of the nicest people Mr. Webb had ever met. They showed up to every game, even the sports that didn’t draw big crowds, and they really did support the athletes on the field or on the court. They worked hard at what they did, and not everyone realized just how much service they gave to their school.
Bravest was the mascot. She had to wear an outfit that retained moisture the way a hoarder socks away back issues of National Geographic. And what moisture did the Titan costume foam retain? Best not to think too much of the sweat of generations that languished within its odorous interior. And that odor – its source? Suffice to say it was a germophobe’s nightmare.
The cheerleaders arrived early and stayed late. They walked quickly in the hallways. It was almost like they were teachers, themselves. That’s why Mr. Webb liked to talk with them when he passed by. He’d go on about their posters like they were fine art hanging in a museum: “I love how the black outline around the red T here illustrates the inner conflict of humanity in the balance of the 20th century! And here, in the way you dotted the i with a heart, this speaks to the hope that we can overcome man’s inhumanity to man!”
They’d laugh and he’d wish them good luck and thank them for all they did. Showing gratitude was easy to do, went a long way, and made everyone feel better about life. Best of all, it was free. As an Economics teacher, Mr. Webb knew that there wasn’t such a thing as a free lunch, but that man does not live by lunch alone.
Besides, teachers and students at Teller only had 28 minutes from bell to bell in the lunch period. If they lived by lunch alone, they would surely perish.
As Mr. Webb drove home, the ennui and depression of the staff development uselessness lifted from him and a true excitement about tomorrow welled up in his heart. He had but one problem between now and tomorrow morning. Would he get enough sleep before the big day?