Monday, March 19, 2012

Pencil Problem Solved...FINALLY

There are somethings that take years to figure out. This is especially true when it comes to teaching. It takes years to perfect a lesson, years to organize your classroom perfectly, years to become an expert at dealing with parents, and years to figure out what to do about the dadgum PENCIL PROBLEM. 
I know you know what I am talking about! Kids lose pencils. Kids break pencils. Kids need to sharpen pencils in the middle of your lessons and grind away while you are trying to talk. Kids bring their own pencil sharpeners so they can sharpen quietly only to have all of the shavings fall onto the floor!! Then there are the kids that never, ever bring a pencil through your door!
Needless to say, it is a problem. In fact, I am pretty sure that at some point in time I have heard every teacher I know complain about the Pencil Problem. Here are some of my solutions, the tried, the trued, the failed:

1. Just keep asking for more pencils and start screaming every time someone gets up to sharpen a pencil during your lesson. I think in my early years I might have even thrown a pencil across the room in a fit of sharpening rage!

2. Provide everyone with pencils and their own sharpener. Problem #1: expensive (I mean I really think they eat pencils) and Problem #2: The blasted shavings all over the floor!

3. A central pencil cup. Everyone is to sharpen their pencils at the beginning of the day. If during the day your pencil breaks, you can trade it out for a pencil from the cup. The problem arose when kids brought no pencil to school or lost theirs.

4. A central pencil cup. Everyone is to sharpen their pencils at the beginning of the day. If during the day your pencil breaks, you can trade it out for a pencil from the cup. If you don't have a pencil to trade in, then you have to leave your shoe and to get your shoe back you had to put the pencil back.

5. Mechanical pencils for all. And then came the lead and more lead and more lead that none of them could ever get loaded into their pencils.

At this point I was ready to throw in the towel and just go completely to pens which doesn't seem to work to well in an elementary school classroom!

Then my partner teacher last year came up with a marvelous plan. We attached cups to each of my desks. When the kids came in, there were 2 sharpened pencils in their cup. If during the day, both pencils broke they could trade them out for newly sharpened pencils that were sharpened every morning and afternoon by my Equipment Helpers.

This was the key, and works exceptionally well. Especially since we trade classes four times a day and I have four differently groups rotating in and out of my classroom. Each time a child sits down at their desk their first task is to check their cup and each time they leave my room they are to check their cup. If at any point (no pun intended) a pencil is missing, they are to tell me immediately. The person who walked out of my room with my pencil will, no doubt, rue the day! Trust me, after one time they don't leave again with my pencil. Now our cups not only hold our pencils but, also, an Expo marker and eraser.

Where do I get the pencils from? Well, at the beginning of the year we require all students to bring in 2 boxes of 24 pencils. Instead of letting the kids keep them and lose them (or eat them as I swear they do). I take up the boxes from the children leaving them with 6 or so to keep in their book bags. Then I store all of the rest of the pencils and pull them out as needed to replenish our supplies.

I do the same thing with notebook paper. They each bring in 2 packs. One goes in their folders and one goes in my paper drawer. When anyone runs out of paper, I give them more from the paper drawer.

I have found that handling supplies like this saves sanity and embarrassment. It keeps the kids whose parents won't keep them supplied with what they need from being embarrassed, and it keeps my sanity. Now, instead of getting frustrated when kids don't bring pencils into my room I point to their cups. And instead of nagging them to bring in more paper, I just had them a stack.

Pencil Problem Solved!!


  1. This is hysterical...and helpful!!

    Donna Boucher
    Math Coach’s Corner

    1. I hope it helped you laugh and helped you save some sanity!

  2. Interesting,we should be creative,heh?:)

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