Once upon a time, during the first week of school in September, Mrs. Papier would walk through the door of Bumley 218 to the sight—as appealingly synchronized as it was—of twenty necks lurched forward toward a small rectangular screen, grasped on either side by white-knuckled hands. “Um, hello,” she would venture. No response. “Um, hello?” No response. “Take out the short story I gave you yesterday.” Sometimes the occasional tilt of the machine to the left or right would signal to her that the children were still breathing as they tried, with more grace than they could muster to compose a thesis statement, to land their fighter planes. “You know, the one by George Saunders, about the kid who gets hit by the car while he’s riding his bike and gets all mangled up and dies in the road?” Mrs. Papier would stand before them, waiting. They would not register her presence whatsoever. She did not want to let them think that she was willing to launch into a tap dance for their attention, so she spent the first ten minutes of the first three days staring at them until the hair stood up on their arms with the charge of telepathic passive-aggression, and they finally raised their eyes to her imposing five-foot figure, and she could do what she had come there to do.
At the start of Week Two, Mrs. Papier instructed the youngbloods to place their iPads on the back table. A few heads popped up instantly. The students slid their iPads toward their chests, the way a new mother cradles her infant’s head from a Pit Bull running loose in the park.
“Yes, that’s right,” Mrs. Papier told them. “Until further notice, you will not being using those.”
“What if I just put it in the corner of my desk? I won’t touch it.”
“What if it’s in my bag and I kick my bag way over there, near Stan?”
“What if it misses me? I named it after my Uncle Vinny. Uncle Vinny’s kind of needy.”
“What if my battalion needs to attack?”
“What if I need to pick soybeans?”
“What if Chop takes a dump and I have to clean it up?”
“What if it gets stolen? My mom told me not to take my eyes off it for a second. It cost a lot of money, you know.”
“It’s okay,” the teacher told them. “Just like you, your iPad needs to grow up and gain independence sometime. It’ll forgive you, and it will remember you fondly when you reunite with it in under an hour.”
As with any experimental population, some subjects took to Mrs. Papier’s conditioning quite quickly. Others, however, like goldfish, forgot the rules of the classroom when they left at the close of the period and needed reminding when they came back the following day. As time went on, to reward the children who knew when to engage with their electronic objects of passion and when to pay attention to the older and wiser dame in the room, Mrs. Papier grew a little more lenient with the iPads. However, the intentions of her kind heart backfired, as the iPads continued to pose roadblocks to learning. When Mrs. Papier would ask her students to pass in their homework assignments and essays, many of her pupils would blink at her as though her request did not compute. “But it’s on my iPad,” they would say, and an ellipsis to nowhere would trail after the words.
One day, Mrs. Papier instructed the students to draw the layout of the Puritan settlement as described in Chapter I of The Scarlet Letter. Those students who used the iPad instead of paper and pencil to create their map were limited artistically by the too-thick digital trajectories of their fingers. Thus, the menacing prison door depicted in Hawthorne’s precise words on the page lost its iron spikes in translation, and became cartoonish and flat-looking and benign. What impulsive, misbehaving Puritan wouldn’t want to enter a jail with a welcoming door like that? Witnessing so many of her cherubs regressing back to a kindergarten mentality both moved and saddened Mrs. Papier, but mostly saddened her, because she knew that they were capable of much, much more.
When students used Notability to annotate author biographies that Mrs. Papier had posted to the class website, they would scribble unintelligible exclamations in the margins, their print five times larger and looser than the typed text because of their lack of dexterity, once again, with their own fingers. This challenging circumstance demoralized their marginalia. The children’s already compromised skills for critical questioning devolved into monosyllabic observations such as “Wow!” “Dead!” and “Famous!” And there was much underlining. And much highlighting. Much underlining and much highlighting. Mrs. Papier found herself sniffling into her pack of Pilot Precision pens more and more often—every time, in fact, that she had to explain that the term “annotate” contains the word “note,” as in “an explanatory or critical comment, or a reference to some authority quoted, appended to a passage in a book or the like” (dictionary.com). Occasionally, the press of a .7 mm tip into a sheet of white paper would calm her, a reminder that she, herself, was still making permanent impressions.
And this was only when Mrs. Papier’s students could actually open the document on the website, because much of the time they informed her, with a smug matter-of-factness, that it couldn’t be opened, that clicking on the icon for the handout she had tried to upload actually produced a blank screen, or a warning of corruption, or even a gentle cackle, from their clever, saucy iPad. And she would say to them, “Try opening the document with a machine that supports more than the Talking Gina app,” and they would reply, “You mean…like a computer?”, and she would nod and etch little zeroes next to their names in the “Homework” column in her gradebook.
The year blipped on. Sometimes the spectacle of her students’ gazes angled down toward their iPad screens filled Mrs. Papier with such fury that she threatened to smash the tablets on the linoleum floor. The lack of courtesy, the gross disregard for the expertise she had to offer as a warm, animated, three-dimensional, thoroughly educated and experienced human being, was too much to bear. Other times, she started her lesson anyway, preaching over their bent heads, complimenting herself out loud for her own wisdom (because they were too busy right now to shower her with admiration), thanking herself for pushing back deadlines and dropping lowest quiz grades (because they were too busy right now to thank her themselves) and musing to herself about the stunning autonomy and maturity that the 1:1 initiative had bestowed upon the young people before her (because sometimes she thought sarcasm actually worked pretty well). “Plus, what a brilliant new addition to my pedagogical toolbox,” she would say. “It has made my teaching methods so much more imaginative, effective, and diverse.” And she would pretend that her students’ absentminded smiles were for her, even though they were aimed at high gaming scores, refreshed Facebook feeds, or, when batteries failed, lovely adolescent reflections (their skin appeared so clear!) in blacked-out screens.
Mrs. Papier began running out of time for her curriculum plans in May, as she usually did, and against her better judgment, allowed her students to purchase the ebook version of The Great Gatsby because it was a free classic and immediately available. They could dive into evaluating the novel right away.
(Why, oh why, did she continue to torture herself so? Did she really think that things would change? Didn’t she feel jerked around by the iPad, that handsome devil, who made so many promises of companionship and enlightenment, then disappointed her with its juvenile tricks? And yet, did she keep romancing herself into a hopeful vision for the future? Yes. Yes, she did. Why? Why? Why?)
The extra seven to eight minutes that it took every day for students to find the one lone floating paragraph that Mrs. Papier wanted to discuss out of the endless sea of un-numbered pa—well, not pages, because the ebook didn’t officially have any, but the endless sea of un-numbered—scrolls?—like the spinning drums in a slot machine one hopes will land miraculously on three matching berry bunches—anyhow, the extra seven to eight minutes that it took every day for everyone to find the one lone floating paragraph that Mrs. Papier wanted to discuss, added up over the course of a couple of weeks, amounted to more than an entire class period. Mrs. Papier would have been able to finish analyzing the novel with her class before Finals Week if she had not lost that precious time. Instead, her students took matters into their own hands and read the SparkNotes summaries and analyses in place of the actual text. They were proud of themselves for their resourcefulness, and Mrs. Papier went home on the last day of classes and ate a dozen mini Memorial-Day-themed cupcakes with blue frosting out of a plastic container to sop up the tears of her soul.
Mrs. Papier was nearly free of the iPad’s omniscience. Her heart pounded feverishly with the prospect. During Finals Week, her students would give live presentations that did not require a multimedia component. “Make a posterboard,” she had told them. “Write a song and play it on your guitar. Produce a sock puppet show. Put together a diorama. A diorama, I said. Recite an original poem. Choreograph an interpretive dance and perform it. Think outside of the screen. Er, the box.”
Not one student took her suggestion.
When time came for the children to project their slideshows on the whiteboard, they were excited to use a program new to the school called InvisiWaves, which was supposed to transmit whatever was on their iPads to the whiteboard via the WiFi connection. One by one the students stood in front of their classmates and Mrs. Papier—her Pilot pen poised over an extensive rubric—smiling in their suit jackets. One by one they introduced their Powerpoint presentations. One by one they stiffened in horror when the WiFi failed and booted their iPads right off the undulations of those certainly invisible but not indefatigable internet waves.
One by one they watched their hard work vanish. One by one they secretly, desperately, texted their mothers to bring in a fresh-picked bribe to please Mrs. Papier.
“Oh—so now you think that edible apples will buy back my approval,” she said to them. “No such luck.” And she turned away the McIntoshes, the Cortlands, and the Granny Smiths.
Mrs. Papier learned something very valuable that year. She learned that one of the first pieces of advice that she had ever heard, from a mentor teacher right before her primordial September, was one that she should follow without hesitation: “There’s only one person in the classroom who needs to be happy, and that’s you.”
The iPad did not make her happy. The iPad made her feel twisted and compromised inside. The iPad caused her nerves to bristle and rendered her love for teaching fragile. The iPad taunted her, humiliated her, and virtually obliterated her. Therefore, the iPad would have to go.
Vive Le Papier, she thought, as she registered the last zero, a lithe little hug of ink, in her gradebook in the “Final Presentation” column. Vive Le Papier.