sorry, but you need to learn how to use the sharpener

"Hey Techno-Tommy, when you're on prep I need you to come by and sharpen my pencils," a math teacher mentions.  She turns to another teacher and says, "I know he loves working with pencils."

Wrong.  I love to write with pencils, because I love words.  I love to draw with pencils, because I love creativity.  I take good care of my pencils, not because I have a special affinity for pencils, but because they are my tools.  It's called stewardship.

What I want to say is, "Sorry, but you need to figure out how to use the sharpener.  I know it looks dangerous and it's made out of metal, but I assure you that you can figure it out.  I'll walk you through it the first time and then you do it on your own the next time. You have to run an update on each pencil and keep them sharp or eventually they won't work. It's a simple crank.  You can do it!"

Our custodian walks by and points out to me, "I'm just a janitor, you know.  But last time I checked, I had to learn how to take care of my tools.  I had never used a tape measure before.  Seriously, I just eyeballed it.  So, when they gave me a tape measure, I didn't find a measure man and ask him every day how to roll the tape back up.  I learned it, because I knew I needed to know how to use it if I wanted to keep my job."

"I'm guessing you could figure out how to use a pencil sharpener, too."

"I do.  You crank that fu -"

"Please, these are Victorian times.  Let's keep our language clean."

"But you see what I mean.  I wouldn't break a pencil and say 'well that's not my thing.' I wouldn't tell the people in charge that it's 'not in my job description' to learn how to use a sharpener.  After all, these people have to shake out the chalk dust from their erasers, don't they?  It's a part of the job.  You learn to use and take care of your tools."

"Some people are scared.  I get that, I really do.  Ask me to work on a horseless carriage and I'd be terrified. So, on some level, I understand how the teachers feel about pencils. Plus, they are rushed for time. It can feel like one more demand."

"If that were me, I'd find a kid who is comfortable with pencils and I'd have him teach the class how to sharpen their own pencils. I'd learn a skill, a student would be able to teach others and we'd all save time.  Then again, I'm just a janitor."

I wonder what would happen if more teachers had the mindset of a custodian.


  1. Thank you for continuing to write what we all want to say.

  2. Good stuff. Well-wriiten and fun, showing some depth of thought.
    Small quibble: It's "metal", not "medal".

  3. Thanks! I need some language geeks to fix my mistakes. I don't spelll so goode.

  4. I echo what Dan said. Have enjoyed reading your posts.

  5. Why must everyone learn to use a pencil harpener? Does everyone know how to use a scalpel? Does everyone know how to use a whisk? Each is a tool. A strong educator doesn't need to know any of these to be effective in his/her classroom. What a good educator needs is the ability to teach her students how to learn. If an educator does his/her job well, then the students will CHOOSE which tool best suits them and be curious and excited to learn it.

  6. I have a few thoughts on this:

    1. I was not arguing that all people should use pencils, but that people who use pencils should learn how to sharpen them. I also expect a doctor to know how to keep a scalpel clean and a chef to keep a knife sharp. It's an expectation of the job that one takes care of tools.

    2. A pencil is not a whisk or a scalpel. Every job requires pencils. I can't think of any job that never uses them.

    3. I believe that a teacher can be phenomenal without ever learning to use a pencil. I've seen it happen.