Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The pencil problem

My classroom has a pencil problem.

Before the first day of school, in my adorable naivete, I supplied each table in my classroom with a table caddy filled to the brim with pencils, erasers, crayons and a pencil sharpener.

That was my first mistake.

Within weeks, all of those things had disappeared. The pencil sharpeners were broken. The erasers were missing. The pencils had been swept up by the janitor.

That's when the complaints started: "I don't have a pencil." "My pencil is broken." "I don't know what happened to my pencil."

Every afternoon, our pencil monitor sharpens pencils. Every morning, I sharpen a box of pencils. And by second period, all of those pencils are broken, or missing, or both.

Now, I have a few naughty children who simply snap them in half, or use them so inappropriately that they break. And I have those others who simply can't stop sharpening their pencils, even when they are sharp, so they sharpen them until they break or get too tiny to use.

But for the love of God, where are our pencils going? Do my students not know how to use pencils without pressing hard enough to break them? Why, every single day, do I spend half the day dealing with a total effing lack of pencils?

Yesterday, I put new pencil sharpeners on all the tables. This morning? They were all gone. According to many reliable student sources, the culprit was a student who was absent today. "He took all the sharpeners," they took me solemnly. "I saw him. He said not to tell."

Why do I have so many students who think it is acceptable to just take things that they want? I already have William dancing around the pencil sharpener, saying, "I'm going to break it!" I have William blatantly taking things right off my desk or snatching things right out of the hands of other students and then accusing them: "Shut up, you big fat liar! Who asked you? I'm gonna punch you in your head!" (Nice.)

And the one desktop pencil sharpener I bought (again, with my own money) has had a group of children crowded around it constantly, no matter how many times I explain that only one person at a time should be standing near the pencil sharpener.

I've been reduced to begging my students to tell their parents to send them to school with an ample supply of sharpened pencils (and really, is that too much to ask?) or at the very least a pencil sharpener. But I beg of you, other classroom teachers: How do you solve the pencil problem?

25 comments:

peace in the classroom said...

I have a pencil system that works pretty well in my room. I keep a large communal pencil case full of sharpened pencils on the table that I use for my paper choices (part of my writing center). It is in a central location in my classroom so children can easily access it on their way to their tables from the rug. This is the ONLY place in the room where there are pencils and I keep closet doors strictly shut so no one is going in there to waste time getting their own pencil. The children know that these pencils are communal and that if they break a point, they simply return it to the pencil case and get another one. At the end of the day I sharpen the whole case myself (this keeps the sharpener from being loud during class or breaking and it really only takes me 5 minutes). I make sure that there are at least 40 sharpened pencils with working erasers at all times (I find that separate erasers are a huge pain, so I don't supply them. Sometimes my kids keep them in their pockets, which I don't mind if they can handle it). If a pencil has been chewed or damaged in any way, I throw it out. I know this sounds wasteful and yes, some pencils do get wasted, but it prevents damage in the long run because when the pencils look nice, the kids keep them nice. My school actually has tons of pencils in the supply closet, so I can usually ask for as many as I need (they say NYCDOE on them so I'm assuming all schools have them). I also have the students bring in a pack at the beginning of the year. I specify that they should bring Ticonderoga, Oriole, Pentek, or Staples pencils. This helps with the longevity since they are good brands. Some parents are generous and buy a big box. I find that this system really works for me. My students don't have a problem cleaning up the pencils after each activity and very few end up on the floor because they are responsible for showing "tables that are ready" and I inspect underneath at the beginning of the year especially. Hope this helps!

mrs_daisy said...

I WISH I knew. I call it The War of the Pencils. My first year teaching was a War of the Pencils year; my second year I had no problems. This year I am back to warring over pencils and it is sooooo annoying. I tried the community supply bins but it didn't work for my kids-in, like, a day and a half they had completely destroyed every pencil in the buckets I had oh-so-cutely-labeled. I repeated this about three times before I decided I needed another strategy.

As of late this is what I have resorted to doing:
On Mondays I hand out TWO new pencils to every child. These can come from their school supply baggie (where I dumped all of their extra school supplies at the beginning of the year) or from the stash that I have collected (stubs on the ground, pencils from a long-ago donation). I make SURE these pencils get labeled with classroom #s. After that point, I tell them that I do not. want. to. hear. another. gripe. about. a pencil. I do NOT go through the pencil-passing-out-ritual again during the week-if they can't find a pencil, they use crayon (which I hate hate hate, but it is preferable to me sacrificing another one of my pencils to a known pencil breaker/pencil loser). We still have some pencil problems, but a lot can be solved with "Whose name is on it?" or "It's not Monday, I'm not handing out pencils." That has helped the massive depletion of the pencils supply, not to mention helped preserve my sanity.

Also, I only let my kids sharpen pencils at the classroom pencil sharpener when my light is OFF. When the kids get to school in the mornings my overhead lights are off (I have lamps) and right after lunch during the 2nd half of Writer's Workshop I turn them off again...and again during dismissal. Any other time, if a pencil gets broken or written down to a nub it's tough cookies for the pencil owner.

I wish I knew THE answer to the pencil problem. Doesn't help that in the last 42 days my kids have miraculously lost the cup that attaches to the wall pencil sharpener to catch the shavings...and it was brand-new. UGH!!

Michelle said...

Here's what we do in our CTT 1st Grade class
Everyone has a pencil with their name on it written in a skinny sharpie. If it gets 'lost' there is only 1 extra per table. We've used the system for 3 years now and no pencils seem to walk away at the end of the day. Everyone really wants to keep their pencil and respects the other kids property. If the point breaks we say "awww I guess you can't use YOUR pencil and will have to use the extra" (sad face) kids learn pretty quick to not press so hard!! :) We use the big sharpener in the mornings and if there are emergencies. No mini sharpeners they are not worth the trouble!!
We only use erasers during editing otherwise kids just cross out. Its a hard rule to put into place but they get use to it.

apple said...

students eat pencils. this is a known fact. however, students do not eat golf pencils. invest in a box of golf pencils and insist your students provide their own eraser.

Anonymous said...

Buy the 100 pack Staples brand; the lead inside tends not to break.

The Panasonic Electric sharpener is also worth the $20. As long as no one burns out the motor. I think Staples is overpriced, but this is the closest supplier to any school.

Kids don't have pencils at home and it's a commodity. It's not worth the aggravation of a system. Just buy lots when they are on sale and limit sharpening to certain times. You can do the sharpening; don't make it a job. Rather make sweeping a job. Few custodians will bend down to pick up any materials. Just all gets swept up.

Anonymous said...

The school I work in has students as early as K use flair pens - no sharpening , breaking or constant erasing. If they make a mistake they just cross it out.

Anonymous said...

I use a system similar to Mrs. Daisy, but I *love* what Michelle said. I pass out pencils to certain students on specific days, so that way I'm not passing out a zillion pencils on Mondays. I make kids throw out nubs b/c some little girls think that they're toys. :P

Elaine said...

The best year I ever had for pencils was the year one of my students broke the pencil sharpener and I couldn't figure out the culprit. I told the students that I refused to buy another pencil sharpener so they would just have to bring their own sharpened pencils from home. I kept waiting for parent complaints, but I never heard a word.

Now I'm in a brand new district and afraid to take such drastic measures. My students (first I've ever seen this in 14 years) started to TAKE APART their hand-held pencil sharpeners and play with the razors. End of handheld pencil sharpeners. Each day a student helper sharpens pencils during lunch break, but that doesn't solve the problem of the disappearing pencils. Right now I'm making them trade out if they have a dull pencil -- nobody gets a freebie. I'm also waiting for my order of mismatched golf pencils from forteachersonly.com

I hope the golf pencils don't become one more thing they really want. Has anybody else had success with golf pencils?

palisadesk said...

Yes, I swear by golf pencils. After going through a national forest worth of quality pencils, I bought a box of 500 golf pencils at Staples.

Kids never take them. They don't like them much, so they go out and buy pencils of their own! They know if they haven't got one, they will have to use the golf pencils.

The first box lasted about 6 years; I'm halfway through my second box, which I got around three years ago.
When I started this I was in a middle schools, now in a K-8. In fact golf pencils (with a rubber pencil grip) are recommended for little kids: it forces them to use a proper tripod grip; the full-fist position doesn't work.

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