We were talking absurdities , the museum curator and I , when I went over there a few days ago . I guess that I was the one who started it by bringing up the topic of Syria .
Would the USA strike ? What would be the point of pretending to be protecting the world’s morality by killing more people ? Hey , didn’t Saddam Hussein use poison gas on his own people back when he was our ally ? Did we get on our high moral horse then ? We both agreed , the museum curator and I , that there is a lot that we are not being told by Obama as he pushes the country , seemingly George Bush-like , toward another easy-to-get-into-but-hard-to-get-out-of Mid-East military adventure .
I’m not sure how we got on the subject of school . I suppose that the absurdity of current international relations leads smoothly , somehow , to how the schools are run . Virgil Middle School memories began to swamp my little mental boat , I think , and I needed quickly to bail them out . I usually don’t mouthe off as much as I did that day in the museum .
I told the curator the story of the sign out pens . Let’s call this story : The Sign-Out Pens .
THE SIGN-OUT PENS
The Contract said teachers could not sign out before ten minutes after the last bell at the end of the school day . We had to sign in at least ten minutes before the first bell and then sign out at the end of the day to be paid .
There were ninety or so of us teaching at Virgil and , I think , we all considered ourselves professionals . Most of us spent endless extra hours , non-paid , on the job . Most teachers do . You know : correcting papers , preparing lessons , buying our own supplies , talking with parents , etc.
At Virgil , we had an administrator , who — I want to be fair — perhaps under-valued the teaching profession . Let’s call him Wally . Principal Wally . He thought that a school was akin to a military organization , I think . He would have loved to have had us snap to attention and salute in his presence , to ” yes, sir ” him , and to ” no sir ” him , and to ” right away sir ” him , and then to carry out his orders .
Ah , but life would have been so simple if it had worked like that . But , of course , it didn’t . Wally was not , as a clerk in an education store told me once after he had asked what school I work at ( I know , I know ! Grammar . Get over it. It was the clerk’s grammatical clumsiness ; not mine . ) ” Oh , you’ve got Wally over there ,” he said . ” He’s not exactly God’s gift to education . ” No . Wally wasn’t .
There were sign-out books on the counter in the main office . Teachers initialed in and initialed out . Cheap Bic pens were put out for the purpose .
Then one day the pens were chained to the sign-out books . Okay , so some of them had been carried off over time , inadvertently or otherwise .
Then one day all of the pens were gone . The office manager explained that ” Teachers were stealing them “. So , from then on , we used our own pens . No more sign out pens would be provided .
But you kind of have to comprehend the entire context of the pen situation . Principal Wally was obsessed with rules when it suited his purpose . His purpose , in order not to belabor the point , was , let’s say , to command . He enforced the ten minute rule obsessively . He never , of course , credited teachers for their extra unpaid hours of effort , but he damn sure wasn’t going to let anyone ever sign out early .
Some of us would head for the office about ( emphasis : about ) ten minutes after the final bell . The office clerks would hold the sign out books in their hands , away from teachers , watching the second hand of the big office clock slowly turn. Click. Click. Click . Remember : a watched pot never boils . Not ten minutes yet . The waiting crowd grew . Click. Click. Click.
And then , exactly ten minutes after the final school bell had rung , the secretaries would put the sacred tomes down on the counter . Deliverance ! Meanwhile , a large crowd of teachers had congregated . They had waited for the second hand to turn . The passage of time was temporarily suspended , or , at least , slowed down almost to a stop . Click . Click .
Wally then issued an order that no teachers were allowed in the office until the sign out books were put down . After that we congregated just outside the door , in the main hallway , and waited there . And at some point , when we finally were allowed in , to sign out , guess what ? No sign out pens .
I happened , by chance , to be a member of the school council that year , the so-called ” School-Based Management Council ” . During the Council meeting I asked Wally , the chairperson , about the pens . What happened to the pens ? The Council waited . There were a few members of the community present . Everyone waited .
” It was a secretarial decision ,” Wally answered , ” because the pens were disappearing . ”
” So , Mr. Wally , ” I said , politely , ” the school secretaries are now making school policy ? ”
That was enough . His authority had been questioned . His pointy little ears turned red . Then his face . He sneered . He glared at me in a vain attempt at intimidation . His almighty-ness had been challenged . I knew that would be enough . The pens were back on the counter the next morning .
The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth ———- Albert Camus