Don’t ask me for a pen

In my first year as a teacher, a colleague from another school told me she’d been to an inset where the presenter had suggested we help kids too much. He suggested we don’t hand their books out for them, as a way of making them a bit more independent. (I’m sure there was more to it than that, but it was a long time ago!)

This struck a chord with me and as a result, I have tried to follow this through in my own classroom. Books live in a box in the cupboard. If a child is sat with no book in front of them, that is going to get them a raised eyebrow and hard stare from me until they rectify it.

The biggest battle, though, has been with pens. I have given away hundreds of pens. When I ran out, my husband gave me his BECTA stash – easily a hundred pens – which I placed in a container in the corner of the room, and though I never offered a pen to anyone, and nobody ever asked me if they could borrow one, those pens were all gone within the space of four months. I am immensely frustrated by this. Pens cost a mere 4p from the Reprographics department. I see more than 4p in coppers on the ground between my classroom and the main block most days. There is NO EXCUSE.

So, I started to announce to classes at the start of each year, that I do not lend pens. Ever. If students ask me for a pen, they get a negative behaviour mark for not being equipped. PE give these marks for not bringing kit, so I give it for not bringing the equipment needed for my lesson. Students can ask each other for pens, or I will let them go and buy a pen in exchange for a detention to make up the lesson time they miss.

It’s draconian, but it works. The classes I’ve had for two years now automatically ask each other. I know, when they ask me, it’s due to a pen’s untimely demise and not just an expectation of provision.

I like to think my little stand over pens does something to foster some independence in these kids, but I don’t fool myself. I told my year 8 class, who I have seen through from year 7, that I was pleased with them for asking each other, and they told me they only do it in my lesson. Everywhere else, they get given pens. I think I should work out how much money school spends every year on pens, and then see if more teachers would be willing to take my route.

This did, unfortunately, cause an awkward moment last term when the deputy head was doing a drop-in and a student asked me for a pen, and I had to refuse. She leant him hers and was unable to complete her observation form. I don’t think it went down very well.

I came across Dan Meyer’s Less Helpful blog this week, which I hope is going to give me more tips along these lines. After an evening explaining to parents of sixth formers that I can’t give their sons and daughters writing frames that will help them pass their A-levels, I am more than ever convinced this spoon feeding has got to stop.

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