trouble-makers still need pencils

"I can't believe Mrs. Jackson through away my document because I didn't have my name on it.  I worked really hard, left it on my desktop and now it's gone," a student complains.

"Did you talk to her about it?"

"She said that in the real world an employer would never accept work from an employee who forgets a name.  She said that if I were to submit a time sheet with no name, I wouldn't get paid.  I will thank her some day for preparing me for life. Besides, she's not a detective, she's a teacher."

"She has a point.  What did you say to her?"

"I told her that I'm not an adult and I wouldn't expect her to play hop scotch well, either. I told her that I will work hard to remember next time and I'll make it a habit to save my document from the trash by writing my name on it at the beginning."

"Makes sense."

"She told me that she'll still give me a zero and I told her she wasn't being fair.  So, when she said 'Life isn't fair' I told her it's a teacher's job to fight on the side of fairness and justice.  That's when she kicked me out and told me that someday I'll thank her for teaching me a life lesson."

I tell him to sit down in the Corner of Shame (it's part of our Schoolwide Discipline Program called Shame-Based Organizational Behavior Process or SOB Process) and think about this actions.  Truthfully, it seems that he has.  It's the teacher who hasn't thought well about it.

Minutes later, Ms. Jackson sends me a note explaining that this child is banned from using pencils for the rest of the year.  She calls the learning tools "a privilege," which is odd, because I can't imagine her telling a child that he can't use a slate.

Eventually, I let this child join my class in our own pencil-integrated lesson.  When she asks about my defiance of her orders, I tell her that I couldn't read her note, because it didn't have her name on it.  After all, this is the real world and if this were a time card, she wouldn't get paid and besides, life is unfair and it's not my job to fight for justice.  When she protests that I should recognize her handwriting, I tell her that I'm not a detective, I'm a teacher.

As she storms off, I tell her, "You'll thank me for this someday.  I'm teaching you a valuable life lesson."

Perhaps I was a bit too harsh, but I'm convinced that we should take away learning tools for unrelated disciplinary reasons.  Sometimes trouble-makers don't even get a chance.  A teacher will say, "Timmy's just not mature enough for a pencil yet," meaning "I don't trust him and I'm scared he'll snap one in half."    If spoken with just the right calm, condescending voice, even Timmy begins to believe that he is not entitled to use a tool designed for his own education.

Nor should we reward a student who is done with slate-work to go to another table to "play with the pencils."  As long as teachers use this approach they will perpetuate a myth that pencils are toys rather than tools and are meant for amusement rather than learning.


  1. I know a child who uses his pencil to draw dirty pictures on his tablet and in his notebook. The other teachers howl outrage, and want to take his pencil away almost every day.

    But his other work in pencil is beautiful. When he writes with a pen, there are ink smudges and splotches everywhere. He doesn't know how to manage ink well at all, and he and his work is covered in stains. But he cares for his pencils as if they were a draftsman's best tools, and works well with them — including at drawing dirty pictures.

    It's a dilemma, I agree. But if Rubens and Michelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci hadn't been allowed to use chalk to draw dirty pictures as young boys... where would we all be today?

  2. Anonymous5:06:00 PM

    I am very fond of the Center of Shame. Plus, with a good shaming from the teacher, other students will shun the Shamed One. Well, sure they will be reluctant to take their turn on the stage of possible public humiliation, but it keeps them in line.
    Those kids who can't make it in the fantasy real-word substitute erected by teachers will just have to leave school at an early age and find real productive work in a world where what they do is more important than whether their name is on it, in the correct corner.
    Oops, what did I say?