Made 4 Math: Pencil Dilemma Solved

This year I have really been working on small things. Those small things that really are trivial but that become a big deal in your mind. Things that happen over and over, get you irritated for no reason, seem completely illogical, and that no one else really gets.

For me, my biggest one throughout all four years of my teaching is the pencil dilemma. Students who will NOT bring a pencil to class.

I have been more frustrated than ever with this problem this year because I feel enraged that I provide them everything (paper, binders, calculators, and all other school supplies and even a place to store them) and they cannot bring the ONE AND ONLY thing I ask of them. They don't even have to carry a textbook, binder, or notebook to class. Just a pencil!

I know other teachers who make students buy a pencil from them, give them a personal item to trade, send them to the office, let them go without, etc. But for me, all of those solutions interrupt my teaching, their learning, and really ruin my mood for that class period. I don't want to deal.

So my solution is literally like the simplest easiest plainest idea ever....but it has worked wonders for my peace and sanity.

I start class by asking who needs to borrow a pencil (because it infuriates me when a students lets half the class go by doing nothing before asking for a pencil!) and as I hand them out, I write their name on the board under a headline that says 'Pencils'. I started this as a reminder to myself to get the pencil back from that student. But then something magical happened...seeing their name on the board made them remember to give it back to me on their own.

I have probably went through at least 7-8 dozen pencils this year but with my new 'system' I have used the same 4-5 pencils for quite a while now.

Friday, in my class of 12, I had to hand out 5 pencils. I was very close to getting angry when I stopped myself. What is my end goal here? I want teaching and learning to go uninterrupted. So I wrote their names down, handed out the pencils, and they worked hard the whole hour. And I ended up with five pencils handed back to me.

I know that I did not solve the root of the problem. I know that I probably could do something better to help teach my students accountability and responsibility.

But ultimately, I need to be the best teacher I can be and I can't do that when my blood is boiling with rage.

Simple fix = calm blooded me.


  1. I think I'll be trying this. At my school, kids can get written up for not having a pencil, yet everyday many of them don't have one. I see some of my students twice a day (for math and science), and I get frustrated when they take a pencil from me the first time I see them and then they need ANOTHER ONE the second time because they lost the first one.

    Thanks for all your great ideas!

  2. I LOVE, LOVE this idea and I'm trying it tomorrow!! Currently, I put turquoise duck tape flags on my pencils, but they disappear so quickly! I joke with my students that someone is hoarding them in an empty locker and I'll get them all back at the end of the year. It never fails that I'll have a few diligent students run down the hall to say, "Mrs. Graham, we found your pencil in the French room!" and return one to me...I'm so tired of getting upset over something that I cannot change. I'll let you know if my trial goes!

  3. I will definitely have to give this idea a try! I've had so many colleagues tell me to just make it a class requirement, but like you, I refuse to waste my time arguing about pencils. I've tried putting coffee stirrers on the end so that they can still access the eraser.

    Thought you might enjoy this fun teacher meme about pencils!

  4. I teach 8th grade and we have a grade level currency we call "Cat Cash." I have students buy pencils with Cat Cash and it's cut down significantly on the number of pencils I dole out. I still have to write the names down, but there's nothing to do at the end of class except tally up the money every few weeks and subtract money from the students' accounts.

  5. A few years ago I decided to quit fighting that fight by just giving students pencils to use. They're welcome to keep the pencil if they need it for another class. I ask for supply donations at the beginning of the year (parents pick at least one item from the list -- pencils, a pack of paper, paper towels, kleenex, etc) -- and between those donations and the boxes of pencils I pick up when they're 1¢ at Staples during their back-to-school sales, I haven't ever run out of pencils! Or loose-leaf paper!

    Maybe I'm not doing a good job of teaching my students to be responsible by showing up prepared for class, but my minutes are precious and I want students to spend them doing math.

  6. Ugh! You have said everything I feel about pencils!!!

    My students get three bathroom passes and two late coupons per quarter. For my habitual non-pencil bringers, I have started to make them give me one of their passes for a pencil. However, this interrupts my schedule! Most of the time I can catch it before I actually start teaching, during their warm up.. but it still drives me crazy.

    I might have to quit fighting the battle and move to the system you set up.. for my own sanity.

  7. I like the donations idea. How about asking for donations at the beginning of the year, and giving some sort of extra credit for this?

    I realize there is some degree of unfairness about this, but life isn't fair. It's not fair that teachers have to waste time with this issue.


  8. My students must eat pencils! It was several months before I decided to restock my pencil supply and thereby enact a new pencil policy. If I student wanted to borrow a pencil, he or she would have to give a nickel to charity. Within the first few minutes of class one of my repeat offenders asked to borrow a pencil. I quickly apprised him of the new pencil policy. To which he replied, "Rabbi makes us give him a shoe. That way we can't leave the classroom [without giving back the pencil and getting back the shoe]." And just like that, I had a brand new, brilliant pencil policy.


    1. I used to take the shoe, which worked brilliantly, however when discussing this idea with other teachers, they mentioned that it would probably be against the fire code for a student not to have his shoe. I think next year I will ask for donations. Although I supplied so many pencils at the beginning of the year, I have been getting frustrated and have not put so many out as before. I may try the writing the names on the board, to see if I can recoup any of my pencils. I also supply pencil top erasers.

    2. Plus taking shoes just means my room would smell disgusting and I'm not okay with that. Also that just takes time to take the item put away somewhere and then remember to actually give it back. I've had students forget the item they left with me. It's just too much of a hassle.

    3. Haha, that is exactly how I felt!! I do not need a stinkier room than it already is. I decided that I could not handle this fight either this year, thus I stocked up on pencils. I have about 100 students a day, 7 groups of four students each (4x a day). To leave class I have to have four pencils at each table before they can go. Usually I end up with more pencils then I had started with on some days and others there are my schemers who try to run off with one! Usually they call each other out because they want to leave on time. It is super easy and a great way to individually tell each student "great job" for their hard work after class as well.

  9. It's so funny that I ran across this post tonight. Friday I noticed that FIVE students in one class of 13 were using my flower topped pencils. I thought, "I can't believe that this many students came to class without pencils!" Then it struck me. FIVE students were busily working away and I JUST noticed they had borrowed pencils. They didn't have to ask me, they knew where to get them before class started, and they were working away. My thoughts changed to happiness that I had finally fixed my pencil problem somewhere along the way - and hadn't even realized it. And yes, all of the flower pencils got returned as well. Isn't it funny how the little things can bother us sometimes (especially now that it is fixed). :)