Saturday, April 21, 2012

Zombie Teacher vs. The Dreaded Pencil: The Sharpener Strikes Back

Happy Saturday everyone. After an epic day of chocolate chip pancakes, a trip to the ECFE family fair to pet native MN alligators and baby bunnies (who luckily did not get eaten by the alligator, as his mouth was duct-taped shut) and yet another trip to Walmart, I can proudly say that I have procured a brand-spanking new electric pencil sharpener for my classroom!

There were several models to choose from, including a beautiful $30 one that plugs into the wall, but after several failed attempts (see my previous blog post) to maintain them in good working order, I figured that I minus well go with the $8 battery operated one that will likely not make it through its first set of batteries before getting jammed anyway. Does anyone have any  good tips for keeping those nasty colored pencils OUT of the sharpener bit? Because clearly verbal warnings and notes taped to the front don't work.

The reason I finally caved, is because spring testing is upon us. School-wide Language Arts state tests are next week, which are the only exam still on pencil-and-paper, and every student is required to have TWO (functional) sharpened NON-MECHANICAL #2 pencils to use on the test. Which usually means that the school has to supply them.

Literally, a student arrived Wednesday with two brand new boxes of pencils. I confiscated one of the boxes, wrote his/her name on it, and LOCKED IT IN MY SUPPLY DRAWER so there is NO possible way the student will be without a pencil for at least.... ummm..... 12 consecutive days. (I think there were 12 pencils in that box). 

Why, might you ask, am I spending my own money on a new pencil sharpener? Sheer futility, I tell you... and total annoyance at my own personal short-comings. 

Shortcoming #1:  Not planning ahead.
I have known for several weeks that my pencil sharpener was on the fritz, but didn't bother to ask the custodians if we had any new ones available until last week, because I felt guilty. I just asked for a new one, and had it installed, before Christmas. It should last longer than that. And now they're out.Which leads me to...

Shortcoming #2: Not paying enough attention to my students
How do I not notice someone gleefully jamming a colored pencil or other non-compatible writing instrument (or pointy object) into my pencil sharpener over the course of a few months? Or are students trying to thwart the sharpener on purpose, so that they are unable to sharpen their pencils; thus, rendering themselves incapable of taking notes in my class? (They should know by now, I'll usually force a pen on them in such a situation)

Shortcoming #3: Not paying enough attention to the calendar
Where did February and March and most of April GO!?!?  I would have forgotten about my turn to serve detention on Tuesday, had the secretary not called to remind me after school. My youngest son's birthday is fast approaching, and I'm leaning towards having two tiny family get-togethers for the second year in a row, simply because I have NO energy to organize a party two weeks before school gets out. Do we sense a pattern forming here?

Shortcoming #4: A total and complete EPIC FAIL in the time-management department
Having figured out that testing is next week, and having determined that my pencil sharpener is in fact, totally beyond repair, to the point that I'm sending students to the adjacent room to sharpen... you'd think a normal human being would have some other strategy worked out. Which I did!

It was a teeny tiny manual grinder-pencil-sharpener, from the dark ages, except for the clear red plastic shell it was made of. But either from the same malicious students as #2 listed above, or from sheer overuse, it broke into 3 pieces during 3rd hour on Thursday, and even my most daft techy student could not put humpty-sharpener together again. So naturally, I waited until the WEEKEND to do something about this problem.

Shortcoming #5: Zombifying whilst reading Dystopian YA novels 24/7.
Mockingjay (the third installement of the Hunger Games trilogy) has installed a renewed sense of the value of finite resources in my classroom. I commend students for saving trees when they reuse the same sheet of paper all week (or month) long to do their daily math warm-ups. It's a good day when a pencil is not only brought to school each day, but used down to the nub! With or without an eraser!

I have also just finished reading House of the Scorpion this morning; or rather, listening... on (which if you haven't discovered these cheap and amazing audio-books... you're totally losing out) and my brain has alternately been musing on the topic of Human Will and the concept of a "soul" (does a clone have its own soul?), and wondering if the Spanish language and culture embedded in the book (which I totally understand because I studied it) is reaching its target audience.

So is the whole issue of posting about electric pencil sharpeners, or pencils, truly life-changing at all? I guess in the face of modern technology, not so much! When I posted about pencil use on LinkedIn, it sparked a crazy two-week debate, which I'm still reeling from the tangents that were explored and the greater picture of the
purpose of education that was addressed.

Speaking of pencils; when I told my hubby today that I wanted to buy a sharpener for my classroom, he said, "We need a pencil sharpener at home!" and I said, "Yeah, I bought one over a month ago and it's in the top drawer". He said, "Oh." and that was about it. So you can see how often the average American household (even one with a teacher in it) actually uses their own desk resources (for good or evil). And we wonder why our students couldn't care less about bringing pencils.

Because we don't USE them in real life. Virtually EVER.

And now that I have ranted about pencils some more, I shall return to my lovely copy of Game of Thrones that I am slowly getting hooked on. My first actual paper book to physically "read" since All of the Above over my spring break. Sadly, I have to admit, I was more motivated to read it by last week's SNL parody of the HBO series. Which I would not recommend to the faint-hearted or easily offended... Ahhh!!! What am I in for!?!?

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