What You Never Learned in College

03 September 2016 / Leave a Comment
There are a few things that my teaching degree did not prepare me for when I actually entered the classroom. One has to do with how to manage bathroom breaks, which I won't even get into, but the other is the PENCIL PROBLEM! Oh...I can't even begin to explain how much time has been wasted in my years of teaching dealing with pencil drama. I have recently noticed many teachers asking the question in various Facebook groups about how to deal with pencils, pencil "wars", pencil programs, filling up bags each week with pencils, labeling pencils.... I decided I'd share my SIMPLE proved-to-work method. Sadly, it took me a good 10 years to figure it out....and it's pretty easy!

Like I said, the pencil problem is a big one, for all ages. They disappear, they are constantly asking you to sharpen them, or if you have one of those sets of sharp/dull cups, they are constantly getting up and wandering around just to "trade" their pencil. To someone that doesn't teach, this probably sounds so silly and trivial. To those that teach elementary school, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Here's the system that I am using now and it's the best one yet! Before the school year starts, I sharpen as many pencils as I can. (Recruit your kids and spouse to help you!) I am thinking I easily have a couple hundred sharpened. Then, at each group I have a caddy with supplies. I fill a cup of pencils at each group with MORE THAN ENOUGH for the 4-6 kids that sit there. They always use these pencils, put them back when they are dull or broken, and they don't leave their seats. 

Then what? It may seem hard to believe, but I only have to trade out their pencil supply about once a week. I usually do this on Friday while they are having their "Fun Friday" time.  It only takes a few minutes!  I have that big box of pencils that I keep sharpened, so I simply go around to each caddy, pour the whole cup into a separate "broken" pencil box, whether they are broken or not, they all get dumped. Then replenish with pencils from my stash of sharpened pencils. THEN, as time permits, a few minutes each morning, or whenever I can find a few minutes,  I just work on re-sharpening the pencils in that "broken" pencil box and add them back to the sharpened pencil box.

Here are my two boxes. I was working on sharpening and adding to the sharpened pencil box. These are put away in a cupboard normally. The kids don't ever get into these. Students only use the pencils in their cups and it's never a problem because there are plenty for them to use.

The most time consuming part of this is getting the large quantity of pencils ready before school starts, but it's honestly worth it. Last year, at the end of the year, I actually took all of the pencils I had left and I had some trustworthy students help me get them sharpened. That was a nice surprise when I came back to my classroom for the new school year, one less thing to do.

I have had a few groups have the problem of their cup of pencils disappearing fast and of course they are stashing them in their desks. Whenever we clean desks, I have them search for pencils and add them to the cups. The kids understand that our pencils are "community" pencils.

That reminds me of another point. What about the cute, fancy pencils the kids like to use? Nope, we don't have time for that. Those will ruin the electric pencil sharpener and I just tell them that we only use yellow pencils at school and they can feel free to use those at home for homework! I've gone through too many expensive electric pencil sharpeners over the years to let those plastic coated ones ruin another one.

Another problem you may have is that they pick through the pencils to find the best erasers. (That will start a couple months into the school year.) I simply got cap erasers and put a cup of those in each caddy for them to add to the pencils without erasers. Let the kids do the work! There are 20+ of them and only ONE of you! They seemed to love that and it made each pencil like new again.

Obviously, all of these ideas are very simple ones that any teacher could come up with, but with all of these pencil wars and strategies that I've noticed floating around Facebook and blog posts, all I can think is that I don't have time for all of that! Just give them A LOT of pencils, change them out regularly, and you will quickly create more time to teach and learn! That's what it's all about!


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