Friday, December 10, 2010

If you read this blog regularly, you probably know already that I have a long list of complaints about my students: laziness, whining, extreme aggression toward other name it, I've probably bemoaned it.

One of the most disappointing things I've encountered in my teaching career is when students show such an enormous lack of respect for classroom materials and supplies.  At the beginning of my first year in the classroom, I bought colorful caddies to sit on each table and filled them to the brim with brand new supplies: pencils, pens, erasers and pencil sharpeners.  Not more than a week later, everything was broken, missing, or defaced.  My fellow second grade teachers and I made a mutual decision to stop giving our students post-its to jot on, because inevitably we would find post-its scattered all over the floor, ripped up into pieces, inscribed with inappropriate language or being made into flip books.  Some of my students used markers to draw on pencils, on our desk caddies, on the floor. 

This isn't, of course, a universal problem.  A great many of my students treat their supplies exactly the way I remember treating mine in school, with the utmost care -- each pencil and eraser tucked lovingly into their pristine pencil case.  (I hate to generalize here, but let's face it: Most of them are girls.)  But every time I turn around, I inevitably catch someone scribbling doodles on a post-it and then ripping it into pieces that end up on the carpet, or someone else drawing on his notebook with a dry erase marker, or someone else using a scissors to whittle a pencil.  (Why do you even have a dry erase marker?  How did the scissors end up on your desk instead of in the scissors bin where they belong?)  One of our students routinely snaps pencils in half when he gets angry.  (Are you tempted to suggest that we give him a squishy ball instead?  Been there, done that, our students managed to break the squishy balls.)  My friend Edward managed to color all over the bottom halves of his sneakers with red marker (which then bled onto the floor, leaving red streaks.)  Several of our students have managed to use their pencils to bore holes through the protective covering over their nametags, scribbling over their names until they were little more than black streaks.

How do you teach your students to respect their supplies?


Mamie said...

I have had these same problems in BOTH "poor, urban" schools and in predominantly"white, middle class" schools, in both 1st grade and 5th grade - it seems to be universal, and in the 13 years I've been teaching, I feel like it's gotten worse. Something is clearly not happening at home in terms of kids learning to respect or appreciate the tools we provide and the effort that goes into making sure that the appropriate items are available. I often feel like I'm beating my head against the wall over these issues!

Anonymous said...

I teach high school and have the same issues. I have had to stop letting my students have their own lab supplies ever since they destroyed remote control cars used in class. I am amazed that 17 year old students think it is appropriate to deface school property, when I discussed their behavior, they told me, "who cares, the school pays for it". I guess they don't realize how much of their materials we purchase ourselves!

Anonymous said...

I see at least two issues here.

1. People respect what is theirs. People provide less care for that which belongs to others. The shorthand for this is that no one changes the oil in a rental car.

One solution:

Give each child their OWN set of supplies. If Betsy keeps her pencil in pristine condition, HER pencil is in pristine condition. If Jack can't manage to refrain from breaking his pencil, well he gets to use the shortened stub. No anger, no big deal, if a pencil breaks, well, that is what the kid has to use.

2. Some kids/adults simply don't care about the condition/quality of their writing utensils. That doesn't make them bad. It just makes them incomprehensible. Others of us have and know we have special pens that work better than others and that we prefer to use.

I don't know that you will have much success turning one type into another.

If the kids have their own supplies the people who care about the condition of their supplies won't annoy the people who don't. The kids/people who can't see the difference between a bic ballpoint and a sharpie won't annoy the rest of us.

rachelblue said...

In regards to your first suggestion, we actually have done this in our classroom. Each kid has their own pencil case with a number on it (in hopes that we will be able to use them again next year). Each kid was given one pencil and one pen. The problem is the kids who promptly lose their pencils and pens, which is an issue I've always struggled with -- I hate constantly giving out new writing utensils, but it's not like they can sit there and do nothing all day because they have nothing to write with.

Mad Jack said...

Again, no one changes the oil in a rental car. If you want to overcome this, you have to teach the little darlings to change the oil and offer some reward if they perform well. You can also demand that the parents start providing basic supplies, which might help the attitude.

I read about Edward. If you're having trouble with him and if he really does study karate or some martial art, find out who his sensei (martial art instructor) is and go have a talk with him. Tell him what's going on in school and ask for his support - I'd be surprised if he fails to support you with a great deal of enthusiasm.

Finally, if Edward says that you're mean, and for all I know you actually are, it might be because you're asking questions that he can't answer, which makes him feel stupid and angry.

Jenna said...

I teach high school so your milage may vary. First, I get supplies donated from my mom's office. Since I don't pay for them... It really takes the stress off. Second, golf pencils. I'm not even sure they can be broken in half. Third, students pay for special stuff like erasers. Keep my supplies refilled.
Also, I've also done the "no one leave until all supplies are returned" schpiel for rulers, scissors, and the highly prized smelly markers.

Jules said...

argh, i hated that about teaching--no one respects your stuff!

my kids were older, so i know you can't do this, but when a kid would come up to me or raise a hand and say, "Miss, I need a pencil," I would look at them and say, "Yes, you do." Kind of mean, but really, i hated that fight so much I just stepped right out of it.

Other than that I tried to lock up the stuff (pencils, crayons, scissors) as much as possible. that way things disappeared slower at least.

last year I tried golf pencils. that just resulted in worn-to-the-tiny-nub golf pencils scattered all across the damn room.

sigh. this is a serious no-win situation.

oh, i remember reading once that someone made tape shapes on a desk where things belong, like scissors or a stapler, and so kids knew where exactly they had to be returned. that teacher said it worked really well, but i imagine those were much older kids than yours.

Jules said...

oh, and mad jack, as for demanding parents provide supplies...the kids who are conscientious about those pencils are the only ones conscientious enough to actually donate items. the ones that break and lose things are the same ones who never donate anything. teachers can ask or 'demand' all the supplies they want--doesn't mean all parents will actually supply them.

rachelblue said...

So we have this elaborate ticket economy reward system in our room, and many of our kids do earn rewards for respecting their stuff. But the ones who don't care continue to not care, and it's hard to figure out a way to make them care. As for not changing the oil in a rental car...these are kids who wouldn't bother changing the oil in their own cars, to extend the metaphor. Several of them have used our classroom markers to draw on their shirts or on their shoes or on their backpacks -- all stuff that belongs to them. We've had kids show off what seem to be prized possessions that they themselves go on to destroy hours later.

Golf pencils didn't really work that well for me last year either, even when I labeled them "baby pencils" with a sad face and made it clear that it would be a disappointing thing if one lost or broke all one's pencils and was forced to use a baby pencil -- the only advantage was that they come 300 or so in a box, so it took longer for my students to lose them all.

As for Edward -- I deliberately go out of my way NOT to be mean to him (not that I try to be mean to my other students, but with Edward I'm extra patient), but he continues to reserve his attitude for me alone. I also try very hard not to ask him questions he might not be able to answer; the exchanges I'm referring to go along the lines of:
Me: "Good morning, Edward, how are you?"
Edward: :::growl:::

My principal, AP and guidance counselor are in agreement that he needs a neurological evaluation and may need to move to a self-contained class, so there's probably more going on than just him disliking me.

Ms. Peace said...

I don't allow students to have any of their own materials. Everything is shared and stored in my writing center. I am very specific about what materials should be taken out for each task. Tables have their own baskets of crayons and pencil cases full of markers that they neatly store on a shelf (away from the table). The baskets are marked with the shape for each table and the shelf is labeled as well. Pencils are shared whole class and are stored in a single pencil case at the writing center. I sharpen the whole case every day and replace pencils that are missing erasers or are worn down immediately. I make sure there are at least 40 sharpened pencils in the box each morning. I only take out post-its, glue sticks, scissors, etc. when they are needed and place them out on the writing center for kids to get as needed. I also make sure that supplies are ample so that students don't feel the need to hoard. I find that this system really works. I don't have issues with students disrespecting the materials. Hope this helps.

Mad Jack said...

I don't allow students to have any of their own materials.

Why not? I would think that having each student provide their own writing materials would be beneficial to everyone, especially the school or instructor who must pay for supplies.

Anonymous said...

No one ever brings supplies - ever---even when asked.have given up....what supplies anyone did bring was then coveted by others...stolen...fights..ugh..
I had a pencil headache - elementary science cluster(pre-k on up)- over 400 kids a week- don't ask- pencils constantly needed sharpening...sharpeners broken..overheated.."borrowed" pencils from IKEA......finally now I get bags of very cheap pens - erasing - cross out errors no erasing think they are hot stuff.. if they misuse the pens...back to Ikea pencils...
Only mistake was buying pens that could be screwed I try to get the pens like BIC. All pens are identical with a little star...very identifiable when stolen...some kids have started to bring their own pens - amazing when they never brought pencils...I think pens are usually lying around the house and are easy to get..again sharpening.
I keep nothing I love in my room after 24 years of disappointment at the way students treat materials...when I retire I just walk out the door...

Mad Jack said...

Anonymous from 12/13 at 6:50: Clearly it's too much trouble to write complete sentences, but given the venue would you at least try?

Miss Brave:
I think the problem you're having regarding the careful handling of school property could be alleviated by having your students supply their own materials, as much as that is possible. I think it's likely something along that line would remove some of the stress you're feeling.

Cheryl said...

I've had this problem before--more in some years than others. One year it was particularly bad. I actually numbered the pencils with a Sharpie and gave the kids a new one only when they traded the old. That stopped the breaking/whittling. I took the other supplies away completely, and they were numbered also so I could track theft/breakage (which stopped with the numbering, too). They had pencils all the time, but scissors, etc. were only passed out when needed.

Unfortunate that this had to happen, but I couldn't afford to keep replacing things. It also made the point that if they couldn't be trusted with things, they wouldn't have access to them.

Giving them their own things didn't work, by the way. It made it worse.

Gagner l argent internet said...

Those are all problems that i have faced too and sometimes things really can get difficult..

Robyn said...

Wow! I'm amazed - in NZ the kids provide their own writing supplies. It doesn't always make them look after the 'stuff' but they have to front up to their parents when they need new pens, pencils etc so it makes them all responsible. They own the problems, not the teacher. All of your comments sound as though your classrooms are very teacher dominated. I taught in a VERY tough school for 17 years. At the beginning of the year, the students and I negotiated what we wanted to have in the classroom - this gave the students ownership as well. By negotiation, they felt responsible for what we had in the room and they moderated each other's behaviour. Noone was ever perfect but it worked so well that I could have all sorts of interesting artefacts in the room and could trust my classes to take care of them. Showing your students that you respect them and that you trust them (a big challenge sometimes!) goes a long way to having them respect you and the classroom.

Teachinfourth said...

I give them a tote at the start of the year which they share as tables. Some tables take far better care of the supplies after my 'talk' about how they are responsible for their own things while others are not.

Of course, each year somebody inevitably ruins my electric pencil sharpener by sticking the wrong end of the pencil in.

From that time, they have to go with the little sharpeners in their totes.

Anonymous said...


Unfortunately in NYC the teachers are often responsible for everything-from pencils to photocopies! My students receive free breakfast and lunch, and although they come to school in $200 boots their parents are never, ever going to scrounge up money for pencils. Believe me, I've tried. I've tried putting their names on pencils in Sharpie, I've tried a cup for new pencils and a cup for used at the end of class...nothing seems to work. The truth is when things are handed to you, you will appreciate them far less. I agree parents need to take ownership of materials for their children. And, if we don't expect them to as a society, than school budgets should account for endless supplies of writing utensils.

preoccupiedgirl said...

Many of these students sound like they are intensely creative. (I'm not a teacher, so of course feel free to dismiss whatever I say.) I think that people who don't have positive outlets for creativity will let it loose on whatever is handy, sometimes without being able to control it. Even as an adult I do that, and it's not even something that I always notice. If you tell someone just "no" and they have that drive within them, it will only make it worse. What I'd suggest is re-directing. What are the creative activities that are acceptable? If this behavior is widespread, I'm guessing there are not enough available. For example, making flip books is a really interesting activity that can be good for kids to hone their visual-spacial skills and logical reasoning. If they want to make them so badly, would it be possible to try to include it rather than punish it? Have them cut out same-sized pieces of paper and then staple them together to make a book, etc.

As far as who I would look to hire someday in the future, my money is on the kid who wants to work with his hands so badly that he's carving a pencil with scissors. (That's actually not so easy.)