Monday, July 18, 2011

Extreme Couponing -- Teacher Style

I think it's safe to assume that many teachers were like me when I was little. I'd eagerly look forward to the return to school -- not just to find out who my teacher was or who would be in my classes, but for the back to school shopping. As the daughter of a teacher, I was super lucky. My mom would bring me along for her trips and then we'd go for a special trip just for me.

School supplies are an ongoing concern for teachers. In a low-income school, it just gets even more complicated. What will the kids bring in? Will the kids bring in anything? What are the kids most likely to bring in? What do they absolutely need to have? How much am I willing to spend to make sure my kids have those supplies? Fortunately, MNPS provides some money for teachers to spend. Unfortunately, its nowhere near what they need to cover expenses throughout the year.

The biggest issue in my classroom this past year? PENCILS. By the end of the year, I was able to recognize the look in my students eyes when they didn't have a pencil. I lost track of how many conversations involved pencils. My favorites were always along the lines of "I don't have a pencil because someone stole it". Someone stole it? The pencil you had in your hand 5 minutes ago during our last activity? THAT pencil was stolen?

I consulted with numerous teachers and came to this conclusion: 3rd and 4th graders have the hardest time with pencils. No one has a solution that has worked for every class.

Various pencil techniques tried

  • Communal pencils
    •  They are very possessive of their things. No one wanted to drop off their pencils for fear of not getting the SAME pencil the next day or later on. They would develop the strangest ways of determining which one had been their pencil previously. 
  • Earn a pencil from the classroom store
    • Our school had a school-wide system of "Bear Bucks" which could be spent on a variety of things, ranging from bigger events down to goodies form the class store. The cheapest thing? Pencils. However, students often spent their Bear Bucks on other things
  • Sharpen all pencils in the morning only
    • One of my goals this coming year is to include more purposeful movement. This past year, I had more than a few who would try any possible reason to get up from their seats. They would inevitably have broken pencils even if they sharpened several in the morning as they boys in particular would break their pencil tips off to throw them at each other and get up.  
  • Use individual pencil sharpeners
    • What to do with the pencil shavings? Even with the ones that "catch" the shavings had a tendency to get dumped in the middle of the room. Also, other teachers expressed concern from their own experiences with the kids trying to use the blades on themselves or the other students. 
  • "Ask 3 before me"
    • When kids would ask for pencils, I would tell them to ask a neighbor (or three...). The kids quickly realize which students take good care of their things and which ones do NOT. Unfortunately, the ones that didn't take good care of their pencils also didn't take good care of other people's pencils. 
  • Mechanical pencils
    • At first, I thought this would be the answer. I always used mechanical pencils. What I never did though, was use the lead as a trade commodity. While I'm glad my kinds understand bartering, sharing lead sounds like a simple task, but it's fairly elaborate. And messy. 
  • Golf pencils
    • I bought a gross (144). Instead of being the weird pencils with no erasers, they became the hot new commodity. We went through the entire box in 3 days. 
  • Thick pencils
    • Designed for students learning how to write, my students loved them. These perhaps worked the best. The problems? Expensive, and they don't sharpen on a standard size. And we broke that sharpener.
  • The sharpeners
    • We broke 1 electric, 1 battery powered, and 1 wall mounted pencil sharpener. 
Needless, I'm still figuring out what I'm doing about pencils for this year. But I was super excited to head over to Staples to discover some amazing discounts. I got

250 pencils: $0.25
2500 index cards: $0.25
50 highlighters: $0.25
2 packages of copy paper: $2.00

I finally started to understand the feeling the women on Extreme Couponing have when they score a major deal. I do not have the 60 hours a week or massive storage space to be a serious contender on that show, so I'll just stick to my school supplies.