- Education and Science
The Only Pencil Fit For School
A Pencil Can Make All The Difference
Over the last 14 years I have worked with students in a large urban school district, mainly with kids who are struggling. Some struggle with math, some struggle with reading and almost all struggle with the frustration that comes from chaotic home lives, grinding poverty, mental illness and learning disabilities.
As an educator I have seen one simple thing turn a lesson around for a student. And it is something that is entirely within our control as adults who support these kids.
It's a pencil.
Pencil As Prize
No, not one with fairy wings or skulls and a crazy eraser. That eraser will be pulled off and pitched across the room to howls of outrage and the pencil itself snapped in half by its owner when the point breaks again.
Sad to say those glittery cheap packs of rainbow bright or action figure patterned number 2s often have a half life of about 30 minutes in the classroom. Frequently distributed as prizes or rewards I have seen those cutesy pencils cause far more trouble than the momentary delight the child might have when it was awarded.
Pencil As A Disruption
Unless everyone gets their personal favorite things like pencils become an oddly important commodity in the urban classroom. Wanted the Disney Princess pencil and got a Spiderman instead? Have a low frustration tolerance and poor social skills? Have few possessions you can call your own? Want to cause a distraction so that no one knows how hard schoolwork is for you?
You can see the problem.
So instead of a learning environment the classroom becomes a battlefield. Over a pencil.
Pencil As A Impediment To Learning
But the real issue with the hundreds of glitzy, fancy-pants pencils that roam both the average and the special education classroom? They are garbage. The clay and graphite mixture that comprises the "lead" is brittle and often already broken inside the wooden casing before the student puts the tip to paper.
Half the time the lead isn't even centered in these writing instruments, making them, instead, instruments of torture. A portion of the tip is still covered in wood, and even if the student masters writing on only one side, the tip repeatedly breaks. Sometimes an inch or more the lead simply falls out of the pencil. Think of how that feels in the middle of a writing assignment or test, particularly if the subject matter is already heartrendingly difficult for you.
My Home Experience
My experience as a both a mother and an educator has taught me to strip issues like this down to the basics. Buy only educational tools that work. Disassociate the tool from distractions like My Little Pony or Transformers. Then give every kid access to these best tools for school.
As a mom new to sending my own kidlets to school 20 years ago I probably spent more on the cute backpack or the huge set of crayons than on the pencils. Those I thought I could buy cheaply and in bulk.
But when my sons sat down with me in the afternoons to do their very first homework assignments, often nothing more that tracing lines, I discovered the problem firsthand. Snap, crackle, pop, and not the fun kind like a marshmallow krispy bar.
What did I do to fix the problem? I bought a box of Ticonderoga pencils. My kids and I never looked back.
My School Experience
I've changed careers a few times, most recently 14 years ago when I started helping out in a Federal Setting III classroom for middle-school aged students with severe emotional and behavioral challenges. I am not going to tell you that a pencil "cures" these troubled kids, but I noticed the same "lame pencil" problems I experienced years earlier with my own kids immediately.
And because of the short fuses these students tended to have, that broken pencil became a huge deal. A desk turning over kind of a deal. A book thrown at your head kind of a deal.
By that point I knew the answer to that small piece of the puzzle. My first purchase as an employee of the school district was a box of pencils. I brought them in, distributed them not as prizes but as the educational tools they should be.
Why, you might ask, was I spending my own money on these pencils? We buy students tons of stuff with our own money all the time in elementary and secondary education. Families and school districts just do not meet the students' needs reliably. And because cheap pencils, whether stamped with "fun" stuff or not, are what school districts buy, I made this choice to help these kids.
As I noted, quality pencils did not send these students immediately into the mainstream classroom, but at least one behavioral melt down per student was averted for the day. Interestingly, in that first of many classrooms, the one young man who broke pencils, sometimes for hours at a time, as a stress reliever did not break the pencils I brought to him and his classmates, He reserved those for work and broke the endless supply of inferior pencils instead. Clever boy, as it turned out
A Simple Solution
Buy the pencils that work. Ticonderoga Pencils are simply and honestly the highest quality I have ever been able to find. They deliver the pencil experience I enjoyed half a century ago when I was in elementary school, and they continue to do so today.
They are more expensive, but it truly is a relative thing. The Amazon deal above works out to about 19 cents a pencil. Just take the plunge and buy these pencils. I guarantee you will not be disappointed, and neither will your kids. If they need fancy school supplies, buy them notebooks or a lunchbox with their favorite fairy tale or action figure.
Stand firm. Get these pencils.
This past year I worked with small groups of students in a reading support program. When they accumulated enough points to get a prize from me, do you know what they overwhelmingly chose?
These Are The Best. Period.
Ask any of your friends or family members who are educators or students. They will agree with me.
And if you want to give the educational gift to a classroom teacher that just keeps on giving, essay after essay and math test after math test, consider giving these familiar rock stars of the educational world. They will be appreciated.
Ticonderoga Variety -- Find The Perfect Pencil
These handsome fellows were the stars of my prize box. Sharp looking and perfect performance.
Remember these? This company hits all the right note with pencils for every learner.
These are awesome. Reduce hand fatigue and teach fine motor skills with these top notch writing instruments.
A Cautionary Tale -- Keep Your Best Pencils Close
Found this and loved every sentiment. Wish I could send Ted some Ticonderogas and nicer friends.