Saturday, April 13, 2013

the argument of "too bad, so sad" [and the middle school classroom]

Lately I have really been grappling with the idea of "too bad, so sad" in the classroom.  Being prepared for class and caring are some of the biggest issues I believe in middle school.  Countless students walk into my room with nothing, absolutely nothing, and do not see the issue with it.  If I don't have my binder, you cannot make me turn in homework.  If I do not have my notebook, you cannot make me take notes.  And if I do not have a pencil, well, you pretty much can't get me to do anything.  Elementary school just doesn't have this problem to this magnitude, because, well, they have desks, and stay in one room all day long, etc.  But middle school.  I get you for less than an hour, and then you are off to someone else.  So for those fifty-five minutes, let's get some work done, shall we?  Well, we do for those who are prepared.  But for those who aren't, what do you do?

Before maternity leave, I had a container of sharpened pencils.  I would start the day with 12 or so, and end third period with none.  We tried a check out system, a "you take something, you leave something" system.  But ultimately, I would never be able to stay on top of those darn little yellow things, and they would surely disappear.  Not to mention, the pencil fairy hasn't visited my room lately, so going through 12 pencils a day isn't practical.  Lately, I tell the kids, if they don't have something to write with, they can use one of the old crayons I have out for them.  This works, until I have a project that I really don't want them using a broken, dull, magenta crayon on.  Yesterday, things just about boiled over in my class of 7th graders when, I am not exaggerating, half of my kids did not have a single pencil to use in class.  We are starting a big project that will be displayed for open house, so I was in a dilemma.  NO WAY were they getting to go to their locker to get that almighty pencil.  So I delved out a few shiny new pencils just to get something done.  Meanwhile, I am handing out these pencils right as my principal walks in to bust one of my kids for what I can only assume had something to do with his locker and illegal substances.  I know he had bigger fish to fry than my handing out of pencils, but I wonder what his stance is on the topic [or how it is handled site wide for that face, hmmm, staff meeting agenda item?!?].

But what SHOULD I have done.  Is middle school an acceptable age to start the "too bad, so sad" mentality?  No pencil, no work.  But then they get exactly what they want, to get out of work.  And hey, you would think a grade might persuade them to do something, but bottom line, it does not.  Middle school you fight not only the students perception of grades being important, and in my experience, you also fight the parents on occasion.  These two-three years are seen as complete throw away years by too many.  Kids know that these grades have little effect on their lives, and if they also hear that message from home, well, then there you go.

So, do I supply pencils?  Make extra copies of the handouts and notebooks when they do not bring theirs to class?  Or do I let them sit there, take the F, and call it a day?  Because they need to learn some how, some way, that the world is not always going to supply them for their unpreparedness, and is this the way to do it?  Last year, this issue was minimal, and I seemed able to put out the fires with ease.  But man, this group is killing me when it comes to being prepared, and even though it is the fourth quarter, I need to figure out my attack plan for the next seven or so weeks.

Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Or maybe this post will just turn into one big rhetorical rant, and I'm ok with that too.
[image from this ten on ten, when I had pencils in my classroom]


  1. I teach elementary, and we switch, so I promise it isn't just a middle school issue! :-) I teach 3 periods of reading and the pencil issue also drives me crazy. I tried taping colored duct tape to the end of it by the erasers so I could spot my pencils as they were walking out the door, or so they could be returned later if they just forgot. Eventually, I turned to pushing the desks into tables in my room and having a supply tub in the middle of the table. In the tub, I put plastic cups to hold the various supplies: pencils, scissors, dry erase markers, regular mrakers, etc. Each week, a different student is the table leader and it is their responsibility to count each of the cups while we are packing up. I just give the quick reminder, "Table leaders, check your tubs!" You'd be surprised at how good they are at hunting down the missing objects in order to do their job well, and I never have to chase after missing pencils. I honestly think most of the time, the kids who haven't returned the pencil just haven't thought about it and hearing the reminder (plus knowing someone is going to be looking for it) helps them to return the pencil.

  2. I second Kim A on the issue being a problem in elementary areas as well as secondary. I teach second grade and my students continuously fail to come to class with all the essentials needed, including pencils, composition notebooks, and pencil sharpeners. The struggle remains every day to get my students what they need in order to work, and it is a HUGE time waster. The idea of putting colorful duct tape on the end of each pencil to know whether it is mine or not is a good idea for those schools whose students won't remove it in order to keep the pencil that their parents can't afford anyway. At the school in which I teach, some students simply do not care if they are unprepared, for they know it'll be given to them. Most students I teach hate it though, and want to achieve. I find most of what teaching teaching our kids to CARE. THIS IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE.

  3. Yes ladies, I do agree that being unprepared is an issue in elementary too, that's where I started my career and know all too well! However, I just seemed like I could figure out a system that worked better when they stayed in my room all day, not the constant in and out. And yes, Kristin, I do agree that the biggest challenge is getting them to care. I thinks maternity leave has really thrown this group off. They had a hard time while I was gone and now that I'm back we still haven't bonded like we would have if I was there all year! Maybe I just need to take a breath and ride out these last 7 weeks!!!

  4. A system that I saw that worked really well with middle school students involved plastic pencil boxes like these: A pencil, an eraser, and a highlighter were inside each of the boxes. If a student forgot to bring something for class, she would leave her agenda next to the bin of pencil boxes, and take one of the boxes with everything in it. At the end of the lesson, she would bring the box back and pick up her agenda. I saw this in a classroom when I was substitute teacher, and it impressed me because no student sat there unprepared while I tried to start a lesson, or interrupted me or other students to ask for supplies. Knowing this particular teacher, I think she made the students realize that it's not okay to come unprepared to class, but if you do, don't call attention to yourself as you fix the problem.