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Education, Good Teaching, Poverty & Socio-Economic Status and Education

Great teachers just give the kid a pencil

I just had to share this wonderful article which speaks to a very important quality of the best teaching that is often overlooked – compassion and care.

~ Dianne


Give The Kid A Pencil, by Chad Donohue, published at Teaching Tolerance

I recently taught a university course in Seattle for graduate students seeking master’s degrees in teaching. In one lesson, our focus was on creating a psychologically safe learning environment for students. It was an issue of managing students and supplies. I posed a question:

If a student shows up to class without a pencil, how should the teacher respond?

Small groups collaborated for a few minutes. Ultimately, they came up with plans involving taking something (a shoe?) from the student as collateral to remind the student about the importance of having supplies, notifying parents and even assigning classroom cleanup duty or lunch detention.

pencil heart“What about you, Prof?” they asked.

“I would give the kid a pencil,” I said.

“You mean the first time?” someone asked.

“Every time,” I said.

This evidently had not occurred to them. There must be some punishment, subtle humiliation or a response that makes the kid pay for the error, right? They were concerned that my action would reinforce and reward poor behavior, possibly even help develop bad habits.

What they failed to see is that the teacher is not the cause of the problem. Likely, the student has been doing this for years. The teacher can respond by criticizing the child in front of the class, reminding him that pencils are required at school, making her give up something as collateral or inflicting some punishment as a power move.

Or the instructor can simply provide the pencil and say, “There will always be a pencil here for you. Don’t ever worry about asking me for a pencil. I have hundreds of them.”

By eliminating the anxiety that comes when students worry about being called out or humiliated in front of their peers, teachers reduce the chance that students will skip class, give up, become defiant or develop mysterious “illnesses” that cause them to stay home….

Read more here:  Give The Kid A Pencil

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3 thoughts on “Great teachers just give the kid a pencil

  1. Great teachers also help students learn how to handle their own little problems. If we always “give the kid a pencil”, we are teaching them that there will always be someone else there to handle their little messes. We can supply advice on being prepared (without subtle humiliation or other punishment) as well as pencils. I have taught grades 7th through 12th for 16 years and I am tired of dealing with the fallout of teachers who baby students by assuming responsibility for all their issues and call it “tolerance”.
    Students come back from college and visit me all the time and the never say ” Gosh Mr.G, thanks for always giving me a pencil”! They by and large show appreciation for for teachers who were firm and fair.


    Posted by Jeff Gerstemeier | January 16, 2016, 4:57 am
    • Agree… but some of us teach in areas where the students are at poverty level. We have kids that leave books and supplies in my classroom because they get stolen from them while walking home. Some are from foster homes where the guardians don’t step up to supply pencils & paper. For this reason…I always have supplies. Often it’s these students that show the most gratitude and offer to help in the classroom because they’ve been shown compassion and treated with dignity.


      Posted by Vanessa Jenkins | August 15, 2016, 4:17 am
  2. give the kid the pencil. Everytime.


    Posted by Ala | April 6, 2016, 10:32 pm

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