Lend me your pencils
As the new year begins, I have begun to prepare for the first day back at school, and the remainder of the term, and year.
One thing that has always plagued my classroom has been the lack of pencils. Not colouring pencils, but your standard HB. Yes, you got it. The one you use all the time at school. For one or whatever reason, there are always a number of students who do not have one – and lots of the time it is difficult to lay blame at them for this. Their learning suffers if they don’t have one, and thus, this year, I have purchased (and will continue to purchase) stack loads of pencils for them to borrow.
Some will argue (and this would have been me) that they should be able to provide their own else they miss out, tough love, etc. But something didn’t sit right with me doing this any more.
I began to look for what other teachers do, and found this comprehensive look at the very problem, and helped me re-forumlate my own perception (and solution) of this problem.
“I recently taught a university course in Seattle for graduate students seeking master’s degrees in teaching. In one lesson, our focus was on creating a psychologically safe learning environment for students. It was an issue of managing students and supplies. I posed a question:
If a student shows up to class without a pencil, how should the teacher respond?
Small groups collaborated for a few minutes. Ultimately, they came up with plans involving taking something (a shoe?) from the student as collateral to remind the student about the importance of having supplies, notifying parents and even assigning classroom cleanup duty or lunch detention.
“What about you, Prof?” they asked.
“I would give the kid a pencil,” I said.
“You mean the first time?” someone asked.
“Every time,” I said.
This evidently had not occurred to them. There must be some punishment, subtle humiliation or a response that makes the kid pay for the error, right? They were concerned that my action would reinforce and reward poor behavior, possibly even help develop bad habits.
What they failed to see is that the teacher is not the cause of the problem. Likely, the student has been doing this for years. The teacher can respond by criticizing the child in front of the class, reminding him that pencils are required at school, making her give up something as collateral or inflicting some punishment as a power move…
…I resolve to remain a patient advocate for the child even if he is testing me. When I hand him the 50th pencil and remind him there is always one here, what will be his likely impression? Has humiliation worked so far in his educational experience? Has the status quo resolved the issue? Imagine the impact of endless advocacy. We should all be extended such grace.”