Tuesday Tips: Ditching the Pencil Sharpener

In recent years, as you may be aware, school budgets across the nation have been slashed. This has meant, among other things, larger class sizes.

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

I didn’t always realize that this bothered me, but I now understand that increased noise levels were causing me some stress. This makes sense to me now that I understand how we introverts are more sensitive to our environments and can be easily overwhelmed by external stimuli.  For more on that, see Susan Cain’s book Quiet, which I reviewed 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:

Pencil Sharpener Electric

I do not.

I had these pencil sharpeners in my room for all the years of my teaching career until this one.  But I realized that this little gadget, so acclaimed in its ability to sharpen pencils quickly, was creating stress for me.  Let’s face it, few students actually think about the state of their pencils until I actually 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 an activity, and someone would inevitably jump up to sharpen his pencil.

While I’m still talking, explaining the directions.

Or while we’re reading something.

Or during a test, when the room is quiet.

These little machines are loud. And I’m sorry, but I’ve never really found one (that my department could afford) that was fast.  And many of the ones we can afford require special maneuvering of the pencil into the sweet spot where the machine will actually sharpen.

In short, the electric pencil sharpener created its own little management system.  I had to make RULES about the pencil sharpener. I had to instruct students HOW TO USE the pencil sharpener.

I don’t like to have a lot of classroom rules; I can’t remember them all.  I’m much more interested in what Shakespeare, Dante, Shelley, or Hansberry is saying in a particular work of literature than I am in discussing exactly when someone can sharpen his or her pencil.

So I ditched it.

Enter these little guys:

Pencil Sharpener Smal

Cute, right?

And quiet.

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 door (the same table that has basically all supplies, handouts, graded papers, etc.).

I will say that it’s important to get a good sharpener if you go this route—look for one with strong blades. They won’t be 99 cents; probably 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!

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6 responses to “Tuesday Tips: Ditching the Pencil Sharpener

  1. Thanks Darlene! I actually did purchase one kind of like that and then didn’t ever use it. I don’t have a good place for it in my classroom, and it wasn’t quite as silent as I wanted it to be. But those sharpen pencils really, really well. Another teacher in my building has one of those, and when I was in her room one day for something, I found myself sharpening pencils just for the fun of it!

  2. Oh, I so agree with this post! I had three electeic sharpeners at the beginning of the year. Two have since stopped working. Thank, God. After reading this post, the third might just disappear this morning. Thanks, Jennifer!

  3. After hearing your ode to the stapler, I had to read this post. I am on board. I got rid of the standard issue classroom crank sharpener last year. I, too, used the tiny sharpeners and they are very quiet; however, they are MESSY. For some reason I end up with pencil shavings around the room. I finally opted for a “Take A Pencil, Leave A Pencil” cup.

    • Haha–I don’t have too much trouble with the shavings. The kids don’t seem to open the sharpeners too much. Maybe because they are older? I do like the pencil cup idea. Do you have kids who take but don’t leave? Do you find yourself constantly replacing pencils?

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