One of my favorite math bloggers, Sarah, had a great post recently about pencils. It was serendipitous, since I’d just had a conversation with a first year teacher about school supplies. Her lesson came to a halt because students didn’t have loose leaf paper!
I, too, am always baffled when students don’t come to school with what I consider basic supplies. For me, the battle this year has been with pencils. At the beginning of the year I had a bin of maybe 50 golf pencils. They’re distinctive, don’t have erasers, and students really don’t like them. My supply lasted several months, disappearing little by little, until one day I was out for Professional Development. Upon my return, the whole supply was gone, along with my stock of erasers.
I had a discussion with each class, reminding them that I had paid for those supplies so that students could borrow them during class. I wasn’t going to go out and pick up more, so now everyone would need to be prepared for class. The unfortunate consequence was students going around trying to borrow a writing implement from classmates 10 or 15 minutes into the period!
So I tried collecting the pencils students left behind: a sort of “take-one, leave-one” system. The obvious flaw here is that a student who doesn’t have anything to write with in math is going to have the same problem next class as well. It ended up being more of a “take-one” system. The whole thing would’ve collapsed within days if not for one valiant student who brought me several pens and pencils a day! Alas, I needed a better solution.
Finally I bought a hundred pack of Ticonderoga pencils from Amazon. The next time a student needed a pencil, I told him that I’d sell him one for 25 cents. At first, a few students were outraged that I was selling them pencils. So I reminded them that I’d already bought a class set of pencils and erasers that had all gone missing. I wanted to make sure they were prepared for class, but I can’t afford to buy school supplies for over one hundred students.
It’s been almost two months now, and students have requested that I add erasers and sharpeners to my store! I sell them basically at cost, which doesn’t seem to trouble kids who already spend several dollars a day on candy and bottles of Arizona. Last week I had to make another order to restock my store, but I no longer feel angry or frustrated when students don’t have pencils–I just sell them one.