The beginning of the school year is upon us, and with it, all the little management problems from last year that we’d like to improve this year.
Today, I’d like to talk about a big one for me.
That problem is: when and how should students sharpen their pencils?
To a non-teacher, that question seems about as trivial as contemplating how and when to open curtains in a room.
But to a teacher…
To a teacher, this decision can mean the difference between peace and insanity.
Of course, my first choice is for all students to have a functioning, well-sharpened pencil. However, I realize that in order to make that possible, there must be a way for students to sharpen their pencils. And here comes the dilemma:
Manual pencil sharpener? Fine, trusty, traditional, and age-old. But loud, immovable, and potentially a mess.
Electric pencil sharpener? Much faster! But also more breakable and expensive. I also believe the sound it makes in the middle of a lesson could be scientifically linked to premature graying of teachers’ hair.
Hand-held sharpeners at desk? Such a great idea in theory: quiet, independent, no need for students to get up. But the shavings…the broken pieces…and the inevitable disappearances…
WHAT is the solution??
Personally, I set out on my pencil-sharpening-procedure quest with the priority to prevent that AWFUL sound of an electric sharpener from ever piercing our classroom ears. Some people don’t mind it, but for me it’s like nails on a chalkboard.
So, I started with hand-held sharpeners, with absolutely no electric sharpener in the classroom. It was ambitious, but I had a vision.
It worked for a while, until all the sharpeners disappeared. Then we had to move on to other solutions.
Next, I invested in 3 really nice handheld sharpeners, and lent them out to students individually, watching them like a HAWK to make sure I got them back.
Given the amount of times students came up to me in the middle of a lesson to sharpen their pencils, it’s a wonder this method lasted as long as it did.
Eventually, I gave in. One summer, I took a deep breath, and bought an electric sharpener, and put it in the front of the room. Frankly, I still couldn’t stand the sound of it, but I also couldn’t stand one more student interrupting me with a blunt pencil in my face.
To start using it, I made it abundantly clear that students were NOT to use the pencil sharpener until work time, and NEVER during whole-group when only one person was talking to the class. We talked allll about what that would look like, all the what-if situations we could, etc.
Not surprisingly, by the middle of the year, certain students began to have lapses of memory when they could sharpen their pencils, and the battle with the sharpener began.
Let me be clear: every teacher has their own pet peeves, but for me, the sound of pencil sharpener starting in the middle of a lesson is something that has such a strong effect over my overall mental health, I believe it to be a liability for the safety of my students (only half joking). I dealt with it until the end of the year, and didn’t know what to do after that.
That summer, I was telling my husband how I wished I had a remote that could turn off the lamp from across the room (come on, admit that you’ve wished for one, too). To my pleasant surprise, he laughed and said, “They have actually have those!”
The next day, he came home with a $9 remote control outlet switch, plugged it in into the lamp, handed me the remote and said, “Ta-da!”
And that’s when it struck: the answer to my pencil sharpener woes.
WHAT IF I connected a pencil sharpener to one of those outlet switches, and then just used the remote to switch it off when I didn’t want students using it?
WHAT IF I connected not just the pencil sharpener to that remote, but some sort of light as well, so that students could see when the sharpener was on or off?
The remote-controlled-pencil-sharpener idea was born.
I implemented it the following year, and never looked back.
How I Did It
Before the start of the year, I bought a remote control outlet switch with two outlets, and brought that and a string of lights to school. I draped the lights over our smart board, which was directly above the pencil sharpener. Then, I just plugged the sharpener and the lights into the remote-controlled outlet and voila, it was ready.
Explaining it to students was half the fun. I explained that they would only be able to use the pencil sharpener during work-time, and as a reminder as to when it was appropriate to use the sharpener, they could always look up and check the lights. It was simple: if they were on, they could use the sharpener; if they were off, they could not.
Then, I performed a dramatic performance of pressing the button to turn them on. Their reactions were priceless. It’s such a little thing, but the fact that I could get smiles out of kids about a pencil sharpener solution was a victory I would take.
How It Went
It worked BEAUTIFULLY. Students learned the system quickly, and the use of the pencil sharpener at the wrong times almost completely disappeared.
Really the only downside, if you could call it that, was that a couple times a light would go out in the string so they weren’t working, and students were so conditioned to associate the lights with the sharpener, they thought the sharpener wasn’t working either. Pretty funny, but a bit of an annoyance in the time it took me to fix it.
We did this method all year, and I eventually passed on the honor of turning on and off the sharpener to a student (what turned into a coveted position).
It solved the problem of the sharpener going of in the middle of class, and also emphasized our transitions from mini-lesson to work-time. Lights on=work-time. Lights off: eyes to the front. Not to mention the happy side benefit that the lights added a really nice ambience to the room.
And I would be amiss to not mention the teacher satisfaction of being able to stop a student from misbehavior simply by pressing a button *angels singing*.
Now, if only we could have a remote for other behaviors…
Looking for your own remote switch?
There are actually a lot of options–I’d love to hear how you use them in your classroom!
The most similar to mine–one remote button to control two plugs (sharpener and light).
For if you just want to make one device remote controlled (for instance, if you don’t need the light connected), though I suppose you could also plug a power strip into this to connect multiple devices to it for the same effect of a multiple-plug switch like mine.
This one is a remote with accompanying switches that allow you to control multiple outlets at the same time from across the room–for instance if you wanted to be able to turn off all the lamps and/or electronics in your room at once. Could be sweet!
If you try one, let me know how it goes and what you use it for! I’d love to hear about it.
If you found this post helpful, you might find these helpful, too:
Interested in trying slam poetry with your students? This Slam Poetry Unit Plan includes a full 3 weeks of lessons taking students through drafting and revising multiple poems with a student-planned performance at the end. It’s hands-down been my favorite unit every year, as well as hundreds of other teachers who’ve used it. Read their reviews about it here!
New Teacher Summer To-Do List Guide, to help you design your full classroom management plan.
Classroom Management Toolbox here, which can help you brainstorm classroom management ideas.
Classroom Management Pinterest board, where I’ve been curating some of the most clever management ideas I see on Pinterest.
<–This book, ya’ll. Seriously, check it out.
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Mrs. Bersey saysOctober 30, 2018 at 9:17 pm
I am a current ElemEd college student AND Active Substitute Teacher… I collect many ideas from other teachers’ rooms but no one seems as bothered by the pencil sharpener as I am. My most recent class saw no issue with sharpening pencils during silent reading! Ugh.
This exactly what i am talking away for my future classroom. I actually use these switches for two lamps in my house but I’ve never thought of bringing them to school. Lifesaver!!
Jeanne Wolz saysOctober 31, 2018 at 4:07 am
Yes!! Everybody’s got their pet peeves, and I cannot STAND that sound while we’re doing a whole-group activity. I hope it works well for you!
Shirley Faulkner saysJanuary 20, 2019 at 12:10 pm
This is genius!!! I can’t wait to get these and start using them in my classroom! It would also be a great signal for when they can use the restroom because it never fails that once I give directions for an assignment and ask if they need clarification, a student asks to use the restroom! UGH!!!