Thursday, October 2, 2008


I was thinking today about pencils. Mysterious little buggers, aren't they? They don't have legs, they don't have wheels, they don't have superpowers. And yet they have this uncanny ability to hop out of students' hands, roll themselves into dark corners, and disappear into thin air!

It is a problem as old as time. According to ancient Greek history, much of Socrates' most profound insights were lost forever because young Plato came to class without a pencil.

In my experience as a substitute teacher, teaching a wide variety of grades, I have discovered that the pencil issue generally begins around the 5th grade. Prior to 5th grade, students are oddly attached to their pencils and all other school supplies, becoming very distraught when one goes missing.

A 3rd grader's reaction to a lost pencil: "Where's my pencil? I can't find my pencil! I don't want to borrow a pencil, I want my pencil! Move over, I need to look for my pencil. Hey! Teacher, Jimmy has my pencil! It is too mine! It has that bite mark from when I stuck it in the gerbil cage. Teacher, make him give it back, he's wasting the eraser!"

A 6th grader's reaction to a lost pencil: "I don't have a pencil."

Teachers who have their own classrooms (I hate you, by the way...just kidding...mostly) often set up procedures for dealing with lost pencils. Some dock points for students who come to class without the necessary supplies. Some make students give them something as collateral for borrowing a pencil, as in, "Here's a pencil, give me your shoe." (Not a solution I would recommend seeing as how 5th grade is also around the age kids begin to get stinky.) As for me, I've taken to searching the classroom and halls at the end of each day. I gather up all the lost and lonely pencils that have escaped from their owners, and I recycle them back into the system.

One time, while teaching 4th grade, I handed out a pencil I had picked up off the floor of the middle school. A student halfway across the room exclaimed, "Hey, that's my pencil! It has that crack in it from when I ran it over with my bike!"

Highly unlikely, but hey, you never know.

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