No More Pencils

At the beginning of each year, I buy a standard box of no. 2 pencils. The box comes with 500. About midway through the school year, which is around late January, I buy another box. Both boxes of pencils are finished by June. Actually, “finished” isn’t accurate. Misplaced, lost, and forgotten are more appropriate terms. By June, 1000 brand new pencils are gone.

Over the last few years, I have tried numerous strategies to retain these precious instruments. I have tried handing out these things with sharpie-inscribed personalizations. I have done the “group supplies” on each table thing. I experimented with the “if you want a pencil give me something valuable to you and we will trade back when you are done”. I’ve walked around my classroom and the hallways collecting them wherever I could find them and kept a box in my classroom corner for use, freshly sharpened. Nothing works. 

I don’t want to harp on reflections of the past and go down the whole “when I went to school…” path, but damn, was it this “bad” a generation ago? 

The answer to that question is not where the essence of these thoughts lay. Instead, I am more curious about what this seemingly inconsequential phenomenon means. We all have the understanding, especially more so if we work with children or have our own, that we are fully entrenched in the “microwave era”. Everything we do, from the way we communicate to the way we eat, is set on “insta-results”. I think this translates to 12-year-olds showing up for school without proper materials for learning and “doing work” because they know, deep down, that there will be some quick fix one way or another.

But is it good enough just to surmise that? Is it okay to accept that our overwhelmingly high-speed and wireless culture is the root of this phenomenon and, then, is it alright for us to continue implementing different strategies to hold on to things that we once thought were so valuable? Things like bringing a pencil to school? Instead of buying two boxes of pencils each year maybe I should re-invest in my understanding of technology, making sure that every student knows how to use Google Docs and book the first floor laptop cart every single day – whether I need it or not. If I did that then maybe when I have instructed my students to complete some small writing task and 4 kids come up to me, some of them 20 minutes into the time they were already supposed to be writing, I wouldn’t be so frustrated. 

But I am truly frustrated because at the end of the day, it isn’t really about the pencil. There is a deeper meaning behind why so many students fail to come prepared for school and perhaps a more complex reason why teachers like me are irritated by that. I’m frustrated because it seems that we are stuck raising the middle children: them being caught between two generations, with the baggage of historical trauma and a reconceptualized idea of what functionality in today’s world looks like. The scarier part is, at only 33 and a teacher myself, I thought I was part of the generation tasked with bridging the gap between old and new. 


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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