Materials for Class: 2 sharpened pencils…All work must be done in pencil.
That’s what my classroom expectations state. Yet, it is rare that all of my students meet these expectations. My morning would be incomplete without the unmistakable sound of the electric pencil sharpener running at the back of the classroom, or the inevitable cries of “Do you have a pencil I can borrow?”. Then, with all resources exhausted, a student will approach me and ask, “Mrs. Shlagbaum, can I have a pencil?”
To give or not to give, that is the question. Some argue that the consequence for being unprepared is not being able to participate in the day’s activity. However, that usually means the student is inattentive, which leads to behavior issues, as said student begins to engage in conversations with others. In the end, the punishment becomes more mine than the student’s. The lesson needs to be retaught and the disruptions managed.
The problem with supplying students with pencils is twofold. The first issue is the sheer number of pencils required to keep up with demand. After using up a significant number of pencils (at least 6 dozen within the first few months of school), I stopped stocking them in my classroom. I began to wonder if their availability really was enabling unpreparedness. The second issue seemed to lie in the semantics. Somehow “borrow” never really meant “borrow”. If it did, maintaining a supply would not be an issue.
After some consideration, I decided to restock my pencil supply and enact a new pencil policy. Take a pencil, give a nickel (to tzedakah, or charity). So Thursday morning before class, I sharpened a dozen new pencils. Within the first few minutes of class one of my repeat offenders asked to borrow a pencil. I quickly apprised him of the new pencil policy. To which he replied, “Rabbi S. makes us give him a shoe. That way we can’t leave the classroom [without giving back the pencil and getting back the shoe].”
And just like that, I have a brand new, brilliant pencil policy.