Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pencil Me In

I have a major, major problem in my life and I have no idea what to do about solving it.  You're going to think I'm crazy, problem is...PENCILS.

Pencils are single-handedly wreaking havoc on my sanity.  This has always been a small issue, but now that my job has me working with younger children, it's a problem that is taking over my life!

Now, for those of you not working in a classroom environment, this will probably not make much sense.  But, you know, in a classroom, you use pencils frequently.  When you have 20-30 children that each need at least one sharpen a day, it ends up taking a lot of time out of the day.  Pencils break.  It's part of life.  But I swear, my students aren't just using them, they are eating them.  They are building log cabins out of them.  They are doing some serious magic on them.  So what happens is that I have children who are at the pencil sharpener all day long, NOT doing work.  Or they are at their desk, not doing work because their pencil broke.  Or they insist, dramatically, that someone STOLE their pencil.  News flash:  NO ONE STEALS PENCILS.  They are always in your desk.  Always.

I'm teaching a much younger grade than I am accustomed to.  It's been a huge, huge adjustment for me.  Before the school year began, I worried about many things - how do I teach kids how to read?  What do I do during science?  How do I discipline younger children?  I never dreamed that what I should have been worrying about was dealing with pencils.

Throughout my teaching career, I have noticed a few interesting "rules" about the pencil situation, even with older kids.

Rule 1:  Electric Pencil Sharpeners Can Be Your Best Friend/Worst Enemy.  Electric pencil sharpeners tend to make the pencils much sharper without "eating" as much of the pencil.  They are, however, noisy.  Take this, for example:

"Class, I'd like you to [WHRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.]  Billy!  Please sharpen your pencil when I'm finished.  Thank you.  Anyway, as I was saying [WHHRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR].  BILLY!"

"Boys and girls, during the test you need to show respect to your classmates by remaining very quiet.  People need quiet so they are able to concentrate.  You may now begin."  [WHHRRRRRRRRRRR]

One great solution, one which I use, is to unplug the electric pencil sharpener after a certain time so that the children physically can't use it after the morning.  However, this will become an issue later down the list in the rules.

Rule 2:  Children Will Put Things that Do Not Belong in an Electric Sharpener in Said Sharpener.  Certain colored pencils, crayons, oddly shaped pencils, or the rubber peel off pencils that book fairs are so fond of selling do not go in a sharpener!  It will break the very expensive sharpener that you will purchase.  And despite telling the kids this over and over and over, Billy will still shove something weird in the sharpener and ruin it.

Rule 3:  Wall Mount Sharpeners Eat Entire Pencils.  Kids will stand there forever, sharpening, sharpening, sharpening.  The pencil isn't yet sharp, so they keep going, and sharpen an entire pencil.  Grr.  Kids also stick things in these.  They can also be very hard to turn, and you have small children giving themselves a hernia simply because they want a point on their pencil!

Rule 4:  Handheld Sharpeners are a Tool of the Devil.  In case you hadn't noticed, Billy is ADD.  And Billy LOVES his pencil sharpener.  He will play with it all day long.  He will dump out the shavings in his desk and then flip them at Susie.  He will accuse others of stealing his sharpener.  And, he will drop it on the floor approximately 10 times a day.

Rule 5:  Mechanical Pencils Require a Love/Hate Relationship.  I once purchased my entire class four mechanical pencils each, in an effort to curb the sharpening situation.  Personally, I love them using mechanical pencils.  Their handwriting is neater, they don't deal with sharpening it, and my ears don't bleed from constant WHHRRRRRRRRing.  But.  The children, especially Billy, also love pencil sharpeners.  They can take the eraser out of the top of it, pour out the lead, and rub it on the desk.  Or try to write using just a thin little piece of graphite.  Or, they can take apart the pencil, playing with the spring and shooting it at other people.

Rule 6:  There is Such a Thing as Too Many Pencils.  You might be saying, huh?  But you're complaining that they say they don't have a pencil!  Well, some kids come in with 72 pencils.  And they use them to build sculptures.  They spend all their time sharpening them.  They break them in half and chew on them.  Help!

Rule 7:  Pencil Organization Doesn't Seem to Help.  I have tried community pencils, where all the pencils go into one pot.  This kind of grosses me out from a germ standpoint, but it also doesn't really help.  You can tell them to trade a broken pencil for a new one, but they don't really do it.  You can write their names on all their pencils (which I do!) and they still accuse their neighbor of stealing all their pencils.  You can tape flowers to pencils so they don't get lost, but they still do.  You can tape spoons to the pencils so they don't get lost, but they use them as miniature catapults.  You can attach a pencil to their desk, but they will play with it, not sharpen it, etc.  You can create a necklace for the child to wear the pencil around their neck, but they will hate it and complain, and it seems like a dangerous area to wear a pencil.

Rule 8:  Boys are OBSESSED with the mini pencil.  This is something that I truly don't understand, and want to.  Boys will sharpen their pencils down to teeny, tiny, itty, bitty stubs.  So small they can't really write with it.  And then they'll stick it in a sharpener, not get it back out, and break it.  Seriously.  What is the male fixation with a small pencil?  Is there something I need to know?

This is where you come in.  These younger children, well, at least the boys in my class are incapable of maintaining a writing utensil.  What should I do to ensure that they have enough to get through the day, but not cause a distraction?  I need help!!!  If I hear one more time that someone stole their pencil/they don't have any pencils/the lead fell out/their pencil won't sharpen/etc, my brain is going to leak out of my ears.  HELP!


  1. Wow. I had no idea there was this much school drama over pencils.

  2. No electric sharpener when I taught (seriously. How old am I!???) but we did have the 'ol wall mounted whirly bird. I just had a rule that you could sharpen before class/at recess or use your own at your desk sharpener and that was IT. They got used to the rules and I think eventually appreciate the pencil boundaries. The quiet will be a bonus for everyone, I think! Good luck :)-Pepper (still can't sign in. Google hates me)



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