All is quiet now as I sit on the couch with my laptop and write this post. My dog is snoozing peacefully next to me in her favorite spot (one of my throw pillows). The dishwasher is gently swooshing in the kitchen. Even my neighbors are all still asleep. They’re not teachers, so they don’t consider waking at 6 o’clock “sleeping in” like I do! I’m reveling in my hard-earned victory this week with my arch nemesis. No, it’s not an angry parent or a jammed copy machine…it’s the pencil sharpener!
Pencil Sharpener Dilemma
Seriously. I’ve finished one full 5-day week at school and my biggest dilemma is the use of the pencil sharpener. I can’t say that I’m completely surprised. There’s been a slightly dysfunctional sharpener in my classroom for a few years now. It chews up pencils like a great white shark in a feeding frenzy. We’ve been getting by with a $10 suction-mounted plastic sharpener from Walmart. When they’re new, they work like a charm. Unfortunately, they also break easily. Our first pencil sharpener died an untimely death just this week, leaving us with two remaining sharpeners. It’s only a matter of time before those plastic sharpeners meet their destiny, too.
On the first day of school, I always have one freshly sharpened pencil waiting for each student on their desk. This practice came as a result of an early mistake. I’ll never forget one memorable First Day when I had only one pencil sharpener and all 23 students in line to sharpen their brand new pencils! It didn’t take long for the natives to get restless! Some lessons you learn the hard way.
Pencil Sharpener Misbehaviors
Even pencils sharpened to a needle-like point quickly wear down, especially the old standby No. 2. My cheap plastic sharpeners were really getting a workout by the afternoon of our first day. “No problem,” I thought. Seems I still have some lessons to learn, however. I noticed the following misbehaviors taking place:
- Social Sharpeners: My extroverts use sharpening a pencil as a time for socializing with their friends while waiting in line to use the sharpener. It never fails that best friends somehow always need to sharpen their pencils at the same time. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
- Tool Time: Some kids, especially boys, just like tools and they see the pencil sharpener as one. Even when they have a perfectly good pencil at their desk, I often found them at the sharpener with two or three brand-new, never-been-sharpened pencils. They just wanted to use the sharpener.
- Delay Tactic: A few kids used the pencil sharpener as a means of procrastination. I mean, if you have to sharpen a pencil, then you can’t begin the assignment right away. Some of my kiddos were in line to sharpen pencils that were already (gasp!) sharp! Nope. Not gonna play that game.
Coach B’s Wisdom
I blame myself for this little fiasco. I blithely read over page 88 in Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids by Chris Biffle. Four short paragraphs about how he establishes a routine for sharp pencils. I barely remembered reading it until I saw one of my 4th grade colleagues had it in her classroom. Good call, Heather.
During my second week of the school year, Operation Pencil System went into effect. One electric pencil sharpener (a welcome donation from my mom, a former teacher), several handfuls of pencils and a big coffee can (another donation), and two small pieces of red and green construction paper – these were the instruments of my victory against the time-wasting process of students using the pencil sharpener.
WBT to the Rescue
I sharpened several dozen pencils and placed them pointy-side up in my coffee can. I taped squares of red and green construction paper on opposite sides of the can. When the red square is facing the class, no one can trade a dull pencil for a sharp one. However, when the green square is facing outward, students are allowed to trade their pencil (one at a time) for a sharpened one. Once school is over, the dull pencils are sharpened using my electric pencil sharpener. Fortunately, one of my students is the son of a fellow teacher. He hangs around after school and makes sure all those dull pencils are sharpened and ready for use the next day. One less task for me, and one step closer to Teacher Heaven!