If you give a kid a pencil…then they’ll want your soul

What can you expect from a student when you try to make things easier for them?

The bell chimes. The students whine. The groans begin. Arms reach deep into bags. Pages are flipped in a flurry. Binders are slammed down on desks, and unzipped in a hurry.

‘Tis the Dance of the Pencils.

The one they got yesterday is lost. The one they got last period is lost. They are seemingly incapable of coming prepared to class. It is just too hard.

The only person who ever seems to have pencils is…the teacher. And the teacher has even sharpened them. Well, isn’t this a nice turn of events!

At first glance, it seems like this teacher is the kind of caring and helpful person you want leading a classroom. I am not judging this person. In fact, I have been this person countless times. And I regret it.

If finding and sharpening a pencil is too hard for a student, how can you expect them to do actual work?

It’s a bit like you start a video game, and the system says, “I’ll just beat this first level for you.” Well I came to play, but now that you’re doing it for me, why can’t you just beat the game?

Or imagine you show up at the starting line of a race. You and the other competitors are standing there, doing the little jumps and stretches, and your coach comes over. Instead of giving you advice, or a pep talk, she kneels down and ties your running shoes. She doesn’t even coach you how to tie them, even though her number one job is to coach you, to make you successful at racing.

Tying your shoelaces is a small, but critical, part of running. Having a working pencil is a small, but critical, part of doing school work. 

Getting prepared for something and getting in the right mental state are non-trivial parts of doing a task. And for every small task you do, it increases your confidence in your abilities, and your motivation to complete the next one.

Be less helpful

When you give a student a pencil, you delay the inevitable step they need to go through to get ready to learn. Instead of minds turning on at the beginning of the period, the groans have migrated to during the lesson, and they’re affecting the flow of your whole class.

Be more lazy. Don’t take away the micro learning opportunities that pop up all the time. You are a teacher. If there is an opportunity to teach something, teach it.