How I Keep Pencils From Ruining My Life

I knew my first year teaching would be difficult. I read books about classroom management in anticipation. I had nightmares that my students wouldn’t listen to me. I worried that I would run out of things for them to do in class and everything would devolve into fiery chaos. There was one thing, however, that I was wholly unprepared to deal with: pencils.

1. They break. They break frequently.

I remember the first time a student asked to sharpen their pencil in class. It was approximately 12 seconds into my first day of teaching. He raised his hand and I got excited thinking that he was actually engaged in my lesson, but that joy quickly turned to dejection when he asked if he could sharpen his pencil. Things would only get worse as I discovered that the pencil sharpener that had been installed sometime near the start of the Carter Administration was no longer working. With much fanfare, this student tried to sharpen the pencil, all the while relishing in the laughter and attention from his classmates. We get it Terry, you’re funny. After what felt like the longest minute of my life, I finally gave him a pencil and we moved on.

2. A good pencil sharpener is hard to find.

Many pencil sharpeners are not designed for the volume of use that happens in the classroom, which is odd, because I imagine teachers make up the bulk of the pencil sharpener customer base. What’s worse is that sometimes before pencil sharpeners have the chance to break due to overuse, they are damaged beyond repair due to user error. And by user error, I mean trying to sharpen a crayon, an eraser, or a pen. All of these things have happened to me. In a perfect environment, I’m sure these pencil sharpeners last a long time, but show me any classroom that is without at least one person that would try to sharpen a straightened paper clip if given half a chance.

3. The children don’t always have them.

I’m not the most organized person in the world, but I would never go to class without a writing utensil. The same cannot be said for middle schoolers. Many of them ask for a pencil. Every. Single. Day. Which is fine the first day. But the human heart can only take so much, and that’s unfortunate for the 30th kid in a five-minute time span to ask me for a pencil. Eventually I get fed up, and usually a middle schooler with a heart much kinder than I had at their age digs into their pencil pouch to retrieve one to share. This routine continues until the end of the year.

I went to college to teach. I refuse to let a pencil be my undoing! Here are my solutions.

  1. I have multiple pencil sharpener options in my classroom. I have one of those old school ones that is attached to the wall. (Honestly, it may be part of the structural integrity of the entire classroom, I’m not sure. I got it new a couple of years ago, but its design hasn’t changed in at least a century. You know the one I’m talking about.) I also have a fancy one. (I did a lot of research. It came with a warranty card that I completed and mailed in. My husband mocked me only because he has no idea.) I also have a couple of the handheld ones just to spice things up. If a student proves themselves to be incapable of being entrusted to walk the ten feet to the back of the room, then I hand them one when they need it.
  2. I buy a gross of golf pencils a couple of times a year. The children hate them at first. They complain that they don’t have an eraser and I tell them to pretend its a pen. They are affordable and pre-sharpened. I’m willing to spend $30 a year on golf pencils if that means I get my life back. You can use my Amazon Affiliate link to grab these pencils from Amazon.

Teaching is simultaneously the most rewarding thing ever and unbelievably taxing. Being frustrated over a pencil may seem silly, but the stress adds up day after day, and the little things begin to get to you. It is incredibly frustrating to have students regularly forget things as basic as a pencil. But I remind myself that they’re kids, and they get a pass.

Is it ridiculous that I have some students that come to school unprepared for weeks at a time? Of course it is. But my end goal is to help my student learn, and maybe, just maybe, inspire a lifelong passion for reading.I won’t get there by focusing on the inexplicable drama that pencils can bring. You learn to pick your battles in teaching, and making a child feel bad because they forgot a pencil is something I won’t do.

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