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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mr. Teacher writes again

Since it's just another boring Saturday, with no Guest Blogger lined up, I'm reheating some old leftovers and bringing back my very first ever Mr. Teacher column on!
This was back in October of 2007, and it addresses an issue that every single teacher on the face of the planet has had to face at one time or another. Why can't my kids bring a pencil to class??
This article was originally published here at on October 23, 2007.

We teachers hear all sorts of questions over and over.

"When's lunch?"
"Can I use the bathroom?"
"Is 60 a good grade?"
But I think the question I hear the most is, "Can I have a pencil?"
I’m a math teacher at a school where kids often come unprepared to class. It's not unusual, especially at the beginning of the year, for them to repeatedly forget papers, homework, and yes, even pencils. (Although they always seem to remember to bring the plastic rings and Yugi-Oh cards.)
It seems like such a simple thing for kids to remember. Not a day goes by when they won’t need to write something. Perhaps not at a school where they practice telepathy and astral body projection; but at most schools where your basic math, spelling, and writing are taught, pencils are a necessity.
Which is why it's so frustrating when kids come to class with no writing tools. Not unsharpened pencils, not even dull or broken pencils. Just flat out nothing. And then they ask that dreaded question -- "Can I have a pencil?"
Now many people might be saying, "Come on, Mister Stingy -- a pencil costs what, 10 cents? You can afford that, even on a teacher's salary!"
Sure, I could afford that. But here's where the math comes in (and I am a math teacher, after all). Imagine that 10 cent pencil being multiplied by six or seven kids – every day! It really starts to add up.
This is why teachers have become so creative in thinking up ways to motivate kids to remember their pencils. In days of old, when a student didn't bring his own quill, the teacher probably made him go out, chase down a bird, and pluck his own feather. Nowadays, some teachers have taken to handing out short, stubby golf pencils with no erasers, or ridiculously oversized novelty pencils the size of Christmas Yule logs. Pencils that the kids will be able to do their work with, but pencils they'll be embarrassed to have to use. Guess what-- after this happens a few times, that student doesn't forget to bring his own pencil anymore.

Parents, you can really help us out by asking your child to run down a checklist of backpack essentials every morning before leaving home. Or even at night, before going to bed.
Homework folder? Check!
Assignment planner? Check!
At least one sharpened pencil? Check!
Together, we can knock out this problem of unpreparedness, and "Can I have a pencil?" can be unseated as the most frequently asked question.
Then we can tackle the next item on the list -- "Do I have to show my work?"


Priest said...

Ask Parents to *GASP* help out with a school issue? Dude, that's pure blasphemy ... HERETIC, to the gallows with you!!

Here's what I did. Over the summer I went to the local Dollar Store and raided their #2 pencil supply. I also bought a container for each class Mod that would hold 25 pencils or so. Then, I glued a 3 inch strip of red ribbon, also from the Dollar Store, up toward the eraser end each pencil. It’s a little red signal flag.

Now, I have a supply of pencils for every absent minded student to USE during their Mod. I pass the container around toward the end of class to collect up all the loaned pencils. The red ribbon strip gives me a quick locator for MY pencils. All total I probably have $20 invested in a school year long solution.

BTW, this strategy is taken directly from The 36 Stratagems of War. If I’m going to run into a battle, I want the Wisdom of the Ages on my side.

Melissa B. said...

Or, just wait 'til they get to high school, and we hear the same questions. BTW, don't forget Sx3 tomorrow...we'll be in an Inaugural Kind of Mood!

The Bus Driver said...

my teachers use to ask for 'collateral'. We used to have to give our shoes, or our jacket or something equally as important to the teacher in order to use a pencil loaned by the teacher. Nowadays, most kids have cellphones or ipods or any number of items that are important to them. Ask them for those items as collateral for a pencil.

Priest said...

Collateral? Hehehehe ... oh yeah, I can just hear the Teacher - Parent - Administrator Conference on that one ... "And my Son's/Daughter's iPod worked perfectly fine until the Teacher demanded it in return for a 10 Cent pencil." :)

Man, I do NOT touch any of their precious high dollar techie items as I can't afford to replace them.

Priest said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Priest said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mister Teacher said...

Priest, that sounds like a HECK of a lot of work, attaching little red ribbons to hundreds to pencils!!

Bus Driver, I teach 3rd grade, so thankfully, my kids aren't bringing those things to class. Probably the most valuable things I could ask for would be Yugi-Oh cards or Barbie folders...

Priest said...

Mister Teacher said: "... hundreds of pencils ..."

Hundreds of pencils? No way, Dude, 20 per class X 4 = 80 and that's all I ever do. I have a unique system that works just swell. First, I get a nice big glass of fresh, cold, milk. Then, I grab a bag of Chips Ahoy cookies. Now, here's where my system gets a little dicey so stay with me. I drop a handful of cookies into the milk and then wait and test ... the cookies have to soak up some milk, BUT not to the point they start to fall apart!!! The trick is to dab a bit of glue onto 5 pencils while the cookies are soaking ... eat the cookies, and then stick on the ribbons BEFORE reloading the glass with milk ... and ... yepper, cookies!!!

I can do 20 pencils at a single setting before having to take a Nippy Nap ... but I'm an old pro at this madness and wouldn't recommend such a blistering pace for just anyone.