Dear First-Year Teacher,
“I don’t got no pencil!”
Every teacher knows that refrain, and every teacher has a different way of responding to it.
Some teachers shrug their shoulders and say, “Oh, well. Responsible workers bring their tools to the job site, but since you didn’t bring yours, I guess you won’t be able to do any work today—and if you don’t do it today, you’ll have twice as much to do tomorrow.”
Some teachers send the pencil-less kid to the office, where there’s a machine that dispenses pencils for a quarter.
And some teachers keep a supply of pencils on hand and hand them out freely to the kid (and it’s usually the same one) who shows up without one.
I try a variation on the third approach. I keep a supply of sharpened pencils on hand for kids who show up empty-handed, but I don’t give them away. Instead, I lend them—and the student has to secure the loan with an item of value. Here’s how the system works:
“Teacher, I don’t got no pencil!”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Gimme a pencil!”
“I’ll lend you a pencil until the end of class.”
“OK! Now, gimme the pencil!”
“Not so fast. What are you going to give me as a security deposit?”
“Well, when you get older and want to rent an apartment, the landlord or manager is going to ask you for a security deposit. That’s an amount of money equal to a month’s rent. If you leave the apartment in good condition when you move out, you get your deposit back. So, what are you going to give me as a security deposit?”
“I don’t got no money.”
“What else do you have?”
“How about your cell phone?”
“My cell phone?!!”
“Sure, why not? I know you’ll want your cell phone back, and you’ll get it when you give me my pencil back. Deal?”
Workers should have their own set of tools, and students should come to class with their own pencils. But the reality is that sometimes they don’t. That’s when you need a backup plan. You really don’t want Cassandra or Carlos to sit through a 60- or 90-minute class period doing nothing.
You’ll figure out a system that works for you, of course, but I like mine, because I think it teaches kids responsibility.
Yours for innovation in the classroom,
Magical Mystical Teacher