Thursday, August 18, 2011

A First Day of School Fable

As I stood chatting with Levi's teacher on the morning of the first day of school, an adorable little girl approached us. She held aloft a perfect, new yellow pencil and asked, "Can I sharpen my pencil?"

"Oh sure, honey," I thought I might hear. "The pencil sharpener is right over there."

Instead the teacher arched an eyebrow and asked, "Do you have a personal pencil sharpener?"

The girl's pigtails quivered. "No," she answered.

"Then you'll have to borrow one," said the teacher, sweetly, but with unmistakable firmness.

That afternoon after school, Levi's first words to me were, "I need mechanical pencils!" Then he launched into a copiously detailed account of all the wonderful ways a mechanical pencil frees you from the need to sharpen a pencil. This then segued into, you guessed it, "And I need a personal pencil sharpener!"

At that moment I realized that his teacher was a girl after my own heart.

I can picture it now. Each day her twenty-three students each asked to sharpen their pencils twenty-three times, generating class-time interruptions and learning disruptions that equaled...well, the math was above anything attempted in the fourth grade. The sound of even the sweetest, "Can I sharpen..." sounded to her like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Finally, she realized it had to stop and devised a clever plan. Next year, she resolved, I will require all students to bring their own pencil sharpener! And I'll encourage them to bring mechanical pencils--they never need sharpening! In a culminating stroke of genius she disassembled the classroom pencil sharpener. As she dumped the offending appliance into the trash she felt a subtle shift in the universe, as if balance had been restored.

So tonight I went to Target and bought a jumbo pack of mechanical pencils--did you know that one mechanical pencil lasts as long as 2.5 old-fashioned wooden ones??--and a handful of personal pencil sharpeners.

Because a girl who devises a system that prevents children from senselessly draining her energy and sanity? I'm with you, sister.


  1. I've always wondered why they make each child bring 48 pencils per year. Maybe it's because they sharpen them 20 times a day?!

  2. I read EVERY blog post and look forward (sometimes im-)patiently in between each one. Unfortunately, I read via Google Reader so the process of clicking over to your blog in order to leave a comment is especially tedious. This comment is a special favor in response to your pleading to show you how much I love your blog.
    A solution? Set up Google Analytics and receive validation through the amount of people visiting your site from the data?

  3. I love that you saw all this drama in one quick verbal exchange. Way to support the way of life!

  4. I LOVE it. I need to devise a better feeding system for my children, because the thing that drains me of life lately is all of the "I'm hungry"s between every meal.

    I am glad you saw into the soul of the teacher. I just met my first kindergarten teacher this week, and she was very abrupt. I was glad I knew from teaching classes that you have to be stern with the kids at first so they know to respect the teachers. Otherwise I might have thought she was standoffish.

  5. I think the person who invented the mechanical pencil should be given a Noble Award. As an artist, sharpening pencils is really an interruption in the creative process. I buy mechanical pencils by the tons. I only wish they came with a "kneaded" eraser on top or one that never got used up.

  6. Yes, we are all out here reading your artful blog and ever disappointed if there is nothing to consume. Perhaps others, like I are intimidated by your skill and hesitant to put our thought out there. I prefer to savor at the conclusion of the read. (Also, I now read on my iPad in their Reeder ap and I don't see that it allows for comments - anyone know how to do it from iPad 2?)

  7. Just saw your post on Facebook about your blog. You have a great writing style! I will add it to my reader and I agree people should comment more. I never feel like anyone reads mine! Anyways, clever school teacher there too.

  8. Oh my goodness! Pencils were my biggest headache. I was amazed at how much time pencils took from teaching last year. The sharpening of..the collecting of...the breaking of....I wish I was the full time teacher so I could implement this teacher's plan.

  9. That's so true, and thank you for recognizing that, but I hate to tell you, and the teacher, that mechanical pencils aren't always the solution. Students will now be endlessly asking her if she has any lead for their pencils. You can't avoid it, there will always be something.

  10. @Farmer Joe, your comments are part of this wonderful blog. Keep em' coming!

    Regarding pencils, my pet peeve is the amount of money I've spent on home sharpeners through the years. Doesn't seem "green" to keep replacing those guys just to use wooden pencils. Bring on the mechanicals!!!