David Thrower

How to Ditching the Pencil Sharpener

In recent years, as you might know, school budgets across the country have been slashed. This has implied, in addition to other things, bigger class sizes.

One little-discussed issue with bigger class sizes is the increased noise level. When 32-37 secondary school students are in a room together, the room is packed (secondary school students are the size of adults, mind you), and crowds produce noise. Especially crowds in rooms with tile floors.

I didn't always understand this disturbed me, but I currently understand that increased noise levels were causing me some stress. This makes sense to me since I understand how we introverts are more sensitive to our environments and can be easily overpowered by outer stimuli. For more on that, see Susan Cain's book Calm, which I assessed here.

I can't do much about the numbers of students in my room, but I have made one small step toward reducing noise. Perhaps you have one of these in your classroom:

I don't

I had these pencil sharpeners in my space for every one of the years of my teaching profession until this one. But I understood that this little device, so acclaimed in its capacity to sharpen pencils rapidly, was creating stress for me. Let's face it, few students really think about the state of their pencils until I really make them take one out. Unless they're taking the SAT (and even then it's iffy), they don't sharpen their pencils before the task required of said pencils. Every day, I would try to begin a movement, and someone would inevitably hop up to sharpen his pencil.

  • While I'm still talking, explaining the directions.
  • Or then again while we're reading something.
  • Or then again during a test, when the room is calm.

These little machines are uproarious. And I'm sorry, but I've never truly discovered one (that my specialty could manage) that was fast. And huge numbers of the ones we can bear the cost of requiring special maneuvering of the pencil into the sweet spot where the machine will really sharpen.

In short, the electric pencil sharpener made its own little administration system. I needed to make RULES about the pencil sharpener. I needed to instruct students HOW TO USE the pencil sharpener.

I don't like to have a lot of classroom rules; I can't recollect them all. I'm substantially more interested in what Shakespeare, Dante, Shelley, or Hansberry is saying in a specific work of writing than I am in discussing precisely when someone can sharpen his or her pencil.

So I dumped it

Enter these little guys:

  • Pencil Sharpener Smal
  • Cute, right?
  • And calm.
  • And easy to use.
  • And just as fast, if not faster, than the electric sharpener.
  • And somehow not as tempting to use while I'm talking.

I'm in love

I have four of these on the table by the entryway (the same table that has basically all supplies, handouts, graded papers, and so on.).

I will say that it's critical to get a good sharpener if you go this route—search for one with strong blades. They won't be 99 cents; most likely more like $4. It's so worth it.

What small steps have you taken to reducing stress, noise, or chaos in your classroom? I would love to know!