Tag Archives: teaching

The Pencil Problem

In my recent post, “Confessions of a Schadenfraud,” I promised to tell you some stories of my epic failures so far in my new job.  A recent Twitter thread reminded me of a struggle that many teachers have – and I admit that I’ve been kind of “judgey” about it in the past.

 

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Now the first thing, I should say is that, if you have a self-contained class, you probably have a great method that works for you to make sure that students always have the supplies they need.  I’m pretty sure that there is a mathematical formula that shows that the number of disappearing pencils in any given classroom is proportional to the number of students who move in and out of your classroom each day.

In my previous role as a pull-out teacher for gifted and talented students, the solution was simple.  No one brought anything to my class, and no one left with anything.  I provided the supplies, and they stayed there.  There were still a few that got sucked up by a Black Hole, but a few packs of pencils would usually last a month or two.

When I saw the frequent Twitter debates admonishing teachers for being frugal with pencils, I would usually shrug.  “What’s the big deal?  Just give the kid a pencil.  We all forget sometimes.”

No one told me that secondary students eat pencils.

At my new school, the students carry their backpacks everywhere (not my decision).  It does not seem unreasonable to expect that there might be a pencil or two included in the depths of these bags that often include contents like hand sanitizer, multiple earbuds, phones, smelly shoes, Takis, and slime.

Pencils, however, appear to be of low priority in the life of a teenager.

We keep a 3d printed pencil holder in the maker space next to the pencil sharpener.  I think it might hold maybe 24 pencils.  If we fill it at the beginning of the day, they are gone by the last period.

When I say, “gone,” I am including the ones that have been snapped in half and left carelessly on the floor.

Realizing that this was not a sustainable solution, but determined to have pencils available for those who needed them, I searched the web for ideas.  This particular one seemed viable.  I felt like a lot of students were forgetting they had borrowed pencils, and were leaving the room with them accidentally; this could solve that problem.

I  wrote, “Makerspace” on  8 bright orange cards, numbered them, duct taped them to popsicle sticks that I then duct taped to the pencils.

My co-teacher, who has been at the school for a few years, watched this process with amusement.

“You don’t think this is going to work, do you?” I asked.

“It could,” she said, without any conviction whatsoever in her voice.

Whether or not it “worked” depends on your definition of success in this area…

I explained to the students that I was not trying to embarrass them or make them stand out when they borrowed a pencil.  I also said that I knew they weren’t deliberately stealing them when they took them out of the room.  I just wanted the tags to remind them to put them back in the holder before they left.

During the first couple of days, only one pencil completely disappeared.  Though I was somewhat disturbed by the probable deliberate theft of a pencil, I considered this to be an overall victory.

My sense of accomplishment did not last long, however.

My big mistake, apparently, was to render the erasers of these pencils unusable.  Past experience had shown me that pencil erasers lasted even less time than pencils (the students like to pop them off just for fun, among other things) so I didn’t think it would be a big deal to cover them up.  Since most of our writing in the class wasn’t formal, I figured crossing things out would be fine.

Silly me.

“I can’t erase with this pencil,” one student complained.

“That’s okay.  Just cross out your mistake with a line.  No big deal.”

“But I don’t want to cross it out.  I want to erase it.”

“But, as you just pointed out, you can’t use the eraser on that pencil, so crossing it out is the next best thing,” I said.

“I don’t want to just cross it out,” was the stubborn answer.

“I guess you could ask a friend to borrow their eraser,” I suggested.

“That’s too much trouble,” she responded.

“Okay, I’m not sure what you want me to do.  If erasers are that important to you, maybe you could bring one tomorrow.” (As soon as I said that last sentence, I felt guilty.  Stupid Terri, maybe she can’t afford supplies!)

“Oh, I have one.  It’s in my backpack.”

“You. Have. An. Eraser. In. Your. Backpack?” I asked, allowing myself to be swept even further into this no-win conversation.  Her backpack was about 6 feet away from her.

“Yes, I have a pencil with an eraser in my backpack,” she said with obvious frustration at my slowness.  “But I’m not going to go get it.  That’s too much work.”

At this point, I decided this conversation was too much work and that I better go help another student before I lost my mind.

Of course, after the students switched classes that day, I found one of our labeled pencils snapped in half.  Which still didn’t make the eraser accessible, but I guess seemed easier than expressing her righteous anger in a more productive way.

After that, it took about two weeks for the rest of the pencils to disappear or spontaneously fracture into multiple pieces.  Certainly an improvement on our previous record, but disheartening anyway.  To give her credit, my co-worker, said, “They lasted longer than usual, at least,” instead of, “I told you so.”

Now I feel like a true idiot for criticizing teachers who made such a big deal about giving students pencils.  So many of us want to give the students the benefit of the doubt (they just forgot, some of them can’t afford them, etc…) – but we forget to give the teachers the benefit of the doubt.  Most of us aren’t crabby Mrs. Umbridges who expect our students to be perfect.  We walk the line between accommodating them and helping them to become more responsible every day.

By the way, as I explained in my Schadenfraud post, these stories are not meant to elicit sympathy or advice (trust me – I have thoroughly researched ways to solve the case of the evaporating pencils and there is no perfect solution).  My goal is for you to take pleasure in my mistakes, so you can be less judgmental of your own 🙂

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Confessions of a Schadenfraud

schadenfreude

You know you’ve felt it.  I feel it all of the time.  I felt it a few hours ago when I read about how Chrissy Tiegen publicly enlightened Kim Kardashian that she’s a bit late in hitching a ride on the Bird Box bus.  But I don’t know either one of them, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t hurt Kardashian’s feelings that I’m laughing at her.  So, I have no problems admitting that, yes, I am delighted to learn that one of our pop culture icons isn’t completely caught up on pop culture.

But when I feel schadenfreude about friends or co-workers, I feel evil and guilty.  And, because my new job has been particularly challenging these last 6 months, I have been having those feelings a lot.  Probably not as much as I’d like to, if I’m being honest.  Because when I’m not deriving pleasure from the problems of other teachers, I am berating myself for all of my own failures.  And that doesn’t feel too great either.

I try to be honest on the blog for precisely those reasons.  I want to share good ideas so other people can try them, but social media tends to paint an unrealistic picture.  I’ve had people tell me that they admire me or wish they could be even half as good as I am at teaching, and that worries me.  Because I’m really not that great.  The only teachers I’m better than are the ones who don’t care about their students – and that’s a really low percentage despite public perception.

But, like most people, I do have a hard time publicly acknowledging my mistakes.  First, because – IDIOT!  And second, because I am not trying to garner sympathy or advice.  Most of the time, I know exactly what I did wrong and I’m already on a potential road to recovery.

I work with a lot of amazing teachers.  It’s pretty intimidating, to be honest.  But when one of them says, “Oh yeah, I went home crying the other night because of how bad my 3rd period class was,” I don’t just feel schadenfreude.  I feel relief.  And I am not reveling in that person’s pain.  I feel terrible for her.  But I also feel a little less terrible – about my teaching.

But more terrible about myself as a person.

Such is the complicated emotion of schadenfreude.

So, I just want to let you know that I am going to give you the gift of schadenfreude a little bit more often this year. Not because I feel the need to whine or vent.  But because I want to give you the guilt-free opportunity to laugh at my misfortunes and tell yourself, “Hah!  At least I didn’t do that today!”

What You Missed This Summer – Inspirational Videos

I know that my readership takes a dip June-August each year as many educators go on vacations or take breaks during those months.  Although I did not post as regularly as I meant to this summer, I did share some resources that I believe are worth repeating in case you missed them.  I am going to spend this week spotlighting some of those.

I already shared the Jennie Magiera video this week, but here are some others that I posted this summer that you may have missed:

As always, you can find hundreds more Inspirational Videos for Students and Inspirational Videos for Teachers on my Pinterest Boards!

What You Missed This Summer – Jennie Magiera

I know that my readership takes a dip June-August each year as many educators go on vacations or take breaks during those months.  Although I did not post as regularly as I meant to this summer, I did share some resources that I believe are worth repeating in case you missed them.  I am going to spend this week spotlighting some of those.

When I wrote about Jennie Magiera’s ISTE 2017 Keynote earlier this summer, I was hoping that there would be an official YouTube video that I could share with you by the time the new school year began.  However, that doesn’t appear to be the case.  So, I will refer you back to the Periscope I mentioned in my first post (Jennie’s portion begins at about the 25 minute mark).

Jennie spoke at ISTE in June when I still hadn’t had time to relax from the previous school year – yet I left her presentation wishing that I start my new school year right away.  I promised myself that I would watch her speech again in August to be sure that I would be energized when I return to work.

If you are interested in re-kindling the magic that inspires teachers to take their students on adventures, then you should watch Jennie Magiera.

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Me – The User Manual

Adam Grant (@AdamMGrant), other of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, tweeted a link this LinkedIn article by Abby Falik today, “Leaders Need User Manuals – and What I Learned By Writing Mine.”

In the article, Falik includes her own User Manual, which includes these headings:

  • My Style
  • What I Value
  • What I Don’t Have Patience For
  • How Best to Communicate with Me
  • How to Help Me
  • What People Misunderstand About Me

As soon as I read the article, I immediately saw applications for education.  Not only would it be valuable to have this information about the administrators we work with, but also our colleagues and students.  Because many of us are about to begin a new school year, I challenge you to create your own User Manual to share with your students and/or colleagues.  Even better, consider this as an alternative to the usual ice-breakers we assign students to give them the opportunity to make their own user manuals after you share yours.  This could really work for any grade level with adaptations.  Kinder students could do a few of the sections with some rephrasing, (What is important to you?) and by answering with pictures.  Older students could use a program like Canva.com to create a User Manual/Infographic (see my example below).  Could your students who love programming write one in code?  As you can see, there are many ways this could be adapted for different uses.  The most important thing to keep in mind is how it can help us to learn more about ourselves and the people we interact with on a regular basis.

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The Trailblazer

One of my good friends, the incredible @lackeyangie, sent an e-mail about a recent vacation experience, and I asked her permission to share it here.  The implications for education are apparent, especially if you have heard George Couros speak – or read his book, The Innovator’s Mindset.

“Hi!
So yesterday I had an amazing day! We went to the Rusty Spurr Ranch, which is about an hour northwest from Breckenridge. We went to this ranch because they market themselves as being different from the regular “nose to tail” trail ride. They actually do NOT want you to follow the same trail, but pick different trails to get to  destinations on the ranch.  We had a really patient and knowledgeable wrangler named, Tess, who accompanied us on our 2 hour ride. I was riding a beautiful strawberry roan horse named Rosie. About an hour into the ride:

Me: “Do we HAVE to stay on a cut trail, or can we make our own path through the sagebrush?”
Tess: “Oh, we love for our guests to go off the trails! Blaze your own trail; that makes you a ‘Trail Blazer’!
Me: “Really?”
Tess: “Yes! It’s actually great for the horses if you get them off the trail. They get in such a rut following a cut trail. We don’t want them to become complacent.”
Me: “Really!” (Yes, same word, but I sounded more astonished this time.)
Tess: “Yep, if the horse is complacent, then they tend to become stubborn. Then, it’s extremely hard to teach them new things. We want them to wonder what turn is coming next.”
Me: “Look at me! I’m a Trail Blazer!” ( Yes, I actually said this as it was only my husband and kids on the ride.)
Marie: “I want to be a trail blazer.” (And she does with a proud smile.)
Sam: (Already blazing a trail with a smirk on his face.)
Then, before you knew it, everyone was blazing their own trail, and they were all the more excited for it.

Disclaimer: It must be said…Trail blazing did have it’s pitfalls at times! There are more mosquitoes in the tall grass and occasional missteps as the horse had to overcome various obstacles in it’s way like fallen Aspen trees. Moreover, Rosie got spooked by something and reared up! She tried to cut back to one of the trails for safety, but I calmed her down and kept on blazing.”

We often talk about teachers who are trailblazers, but how frequently do we encourage our students to search for new paths?  As George Couros states, “Compliance does not foster innovation. In fact, demanding conformity does quite the opposite.” Yes, there are pitfalls, but insulating our students from those will only make them less prepared when they encounter them in the future.

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imae from Pixabay

Cogs

I love visiting the Kuriositas blog for unusual stories about animals, vivid descriptions of places all over the world, and their incredible video picks.  Yesterday, I discovered the short video, Cogs, on their site.  Directed by Laurent Witz for AIME (an organization dedicated to education equality), Cogs is one of those small packages that deliver a huge gift. In this gorgeous animation, a world is shown that is ruled by a factory that produces only two kinds of people – and they can only travel on their separate tracks.  It is a sad, but unfortunately very appropriate, metaphor for the world’s drastically restrained and disparate educational systems. The film has a hauntingly beautiful theme sung by Mariot Pejon, and composed by Olivier Defradat.  In less than three minutes, we experience melancholy that gradually evolves into hope.  It is a wonderful inspiration to all of us who believe that every child should receive a quality education.

I will be adding this to my Inspirational Videos for Teachers collection on Pinterest.

Change the World