Widespread copier issues undermine teacher planning


Margot Durfee

Wilson English teacher Joseph Welch stood in front of the copy machine, exasperated. What should’ve been a two-minute process had ended up taking over fifteen minutes.

It was a Monday morning, and he had arrived early to print the week’s work, only to find the copying room filled with fuming teachers, cursing and slamming their hands against the copier, half-heartedly attempting to unjam it.

Welch was forced to push back his lesson plan, and resort to an alternative activity.

“It destroys your day and sets you up for a bad week because you are already behind,” Welch explained.

Welch’s difficulty has become a school-wide issue. Copying machines at Wilson are increasingly unreliable and in disrepair, creating an obstacle for teachers’ class preparations.

The problems range from frequent paper jams and failures of the double-sided printing and stapling features to machines that won’t connect with teacher’s computers. On an average day, only two out of the nine copiers could be properly functioning, while the remaining are in need of replacement parts or toner, according to Brandon Hall, Wilson’s Director of Strategy and Logistics.

Copy machines are vital in a school as large as Wilson. Teachers need them to photocopy classwork, homework, and assessments for each of their hundred-or-so students. These machines have a printer and copier component; the printer prints the original version of the assignment and the copier mass-produces it. Failing machines can translate into late nights for teachers and time taken away from more important tasks.

“[The broken copiers] have made preparing for class significantly more difficult and significantly more time-consuming, because as teachers, the one thing that limits us more than anything else is the demands on our time,” said science teacher Will Gomaa.

Anna Foxen, a French teacher, has had to change her lesson plan multiple times because of the inefficient machines. One time, she resorted to displaying quiz questions on the board and had students write their answers on their own paper because she was unable to print individual copies.

Some teachers have had to resort to their own devices, with mixed results.

“The times I have been able to find a working printer or copier I have been staying after 9 p.m. [to print classwork],” said Robert Geremia, a social studies teacher. “I’ve got to be here late at night just to get the copying done.”

Gomaa has also had to adjust his routine to accommodate for these issues. He often prints a single copy of an assignment at home, then copies it at Wilson.  However, a drawback many teachers face in planning ahead is that they lack flexibility to change their class plans later on.

One potential cause of these issues is that the copiers are overworked. With 185 staff members using nine copiers every day, the machines frequently run out of toner and need repairs. Hall and other administrators are constantly replacing toner cartridges and broken parts around the school.

“I have reached out to SHARP Business Systems, [which provides the copiers,] to see what we can do to [create] better systems to make sure that toner is always available at our disposal and also to make sure that the parts aren’t breaking down as frequently,” Hall said.

Geremia noticed that many teachers are printing their whole job rather than printing one copy and photocopying the remaining number. This has caused the printers to slow down and frequently jam.  Because of this, Geremia believes Wilson should have a more centralized printing system. At his former school, Alice Deal middle school, if teachers planned far enough in advance, they could submit a copy of a big printing job, such as a test, to be managed by an administrator. This way, only a few people were operating the machine, making the copying process more efficient.

Money also plays a role in this.

“In a perfect world, we would get new machines that could handle the workload,” French teacher Anna Foxen said. “Teachers understand that there is not an endless supply of money.” In fact, Wilson is contracted to have copiers replaced every four years, according to Hall. It is currently the third year since the last replacement, so there will be new copiers in over a year.

In the meantime, Principal Kimberly Martin is encouraging teachers to cut down on paper usage and find more interactive ways of teaching, according to Hall. Copier codes have been given to teachers to monitor their paper usage. Hall also plans to talk to individual teachers about ways to use less paper.

Many teachers, however, are unsatisfied with the progress Wilson has made to solve the problem.“My suggestion would be [for Wilson] to take the needs of teachers much more seriously because it seems like the copiers are viewed as an inconvenience, rather than a real necessity for how we teach,” said Gomaa.

Geremia agrees. “It ruins my day. I can deal with the most problematic, challenging situation that students might be going through, I am willing to deal with the craziness of the hallway, I can deal with… anger from my colleagues, but the copy machine will put me over the edge,” he said.