I Remember, by Paul Jenner
I remember the smell of the whiteboard pens we used to use, that solvent stench. I remember the rows of children sat writing on real paper with real pens. I remember having just one computer in the corner of the classroom. I also remember the day I was retired. I should have seen it coming I suppose. Several of my colleagues had already been shown the exit – the cynical, lazy ones. I never imagined the School Manager would decide I could be replaced with computers and robots. He called me into his office and told me I was surplus to requirements. “You should retire early with dignity,” he said. “There’s no place for flesh and blood Mathematics teachers in the schools of today.” I’m only 59. I can’t afford to retire yet. I should have seen it coming I suppose. There’s no need for the likes of me anymore. Subjects involving creativity and subjective opinions still need the human touch, but not the cold, hard right and wrong of mathematics. The students are all wired into computers, their learning piped in through their screens and headsets. They all follow a learning plan designed and controlled by computers, at the appropriate pace for every pupil. They even have robots that wheel round the room ensuring all the students stay on task.
I remember winning Maths Teacher of the Year award for three years running. I remember students coming up to me and telling me I was the most inspirational teacher they’d ever had. I remember the gifts and gratitude from their parents for getting them top grades in the exam. That was all a long time ago now though. I suppose I’ve never really moved with the times. I’ve never really embraced the obsession with having computers do everything for you.
I remember the world before there were computers and robots everywhere. I remember when a real barman poured your drinks, rather than that mechanical arm. I remember when there were real people working in the call centres. I remember when you drove the car yourself, before the computers controlled it all. I even remember breaking a few speed limits! I remember when almost everybody had a job. I saw on the news that unemployment has reached 53%. Even the workers in the robot factories have been laid off, now there are robots making robots! There are robots making clothes, robots building houses, robots singing old Sinatra songs, DJing radio shows and, yes, teaching school children. Meanwhile, there are people sat at home doing nothing all day, people collecting social security, people living on the poverty line and people driven to crime.
I remember the day I retired. It was the best day I’d had teaching in a decade. Something mysterious had destroyed the central server which controlled all the computers and robots in the entire school. The panic was absolute. The School Manager ran around like a headless chicken making frantic phone calls to IT support. The younger teachers had no clue what to do without their precious computers. I loved it though. My board pen flashed this way and that on the old whiteboard in the corner. My students loved it too, learning Pythagoras the old fashioned way. They saw me as I used to be, in my prime, an inspiration. I retired on a high that day. I’m so glad I relieved myself in the server room first thing in the morning, my urine shorting out the entire system. I always told them they were too reliant on computers.
Paul Jenner is a 32 year old teacher living and working in Sheffield, England. He has been teaching math for nearly a decade and has recently decided to try his hand at writing short fiction, in-between changing his new son’s diapers and shaping the mathematical minds of tomorrow. Paul Jenner is constantly fearful that robots will develop to the point where they can do his job, hence the subject of the story. Find him at PaulJenner.blog.co.uk
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