Just because I’m still on winter break doesn’t mean I’m not planning things for the upcoming weeks. I find it ironic that some of my favorite days at school are the days when there are no students, though I use this time to organize my room and prepare it for their return. Being a fairly new teacher, I’m also still learning about what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to classroom organization.
For example, you know what doesn’t work in my classroom? My current pencil system. To all of you veteran teachers out there, feel free to have a good laugh at me right now because I’m on the losing side of the battle between me… and my classroom pencils. It’s like this: from August to December, several students would daily break their pencils and walk to the pencil sharpener, at which point the situation dramatically worsened because if more than one person was in line, they would talk, and if they waited in their seats, they would only be paying attention to when they could get up to use the sharpener. Lest we think the problem ended when the bell rang, the number of students who left my classroom with my pencil diminished the number of pencils for use the next day.
I’ve attempted to solve this situation in different ways. I began requiring pencils be turned in at the end of every period. This worked decently. In addressing the bigger problem of keeping the pencil sharpened, though, I am not so fortunate. I’ve tried different brands of pencils, getting a brand new manual pencil sharpener, and using my colleague’s fancy electric sharpener. I also tried keeping more sharpened pencils handy, but this just resulted in more pencils breaking and needing to be sharpened in the same period. Honestly, I feel like my classroom could feasibly be a black hole/magnetic field/different time plane where pencils simple refuse to work.
Over winter break, I acquired a mega-pack of mechanical pencils and extra lead. I have written the name of each of my students so they each have their own pencil. They get it when they enter my classroom. They return it when they leave class. I refill the lead at the end of every day. It seems so simple it just might work. Then again, you might be thinking this whole problem shouldn’t even be a “problem.” After all, what’s a couple minutes? Consider this: if it’s a couple minutes per pencil, per student, and I’ve got 34 students I rotate through my classroom throughout the day, that’s as much as 68 minutes of my instructional time that’s been wasted. During my classroom period with my largest group (17 students), I’ve lost as many as ten minutes of a 60-minute period attempting to ensure everyone has a capable writing instrument. If that occurred every day of a 180-day school year, that could lead to students spending 30 hours of their school year breaking and sharpening pencils during instructional time.
I spend a lot of time talking with and observing a fellow colleague, who I consider my mentor. In nearly every conversation, she emphasizes the importance of every single minute. They add up. They are the difference between a great educational experience and a good educational experience. Don’t waste a single one. Least of all on a pencil.