Transitioning to Pencil Use

Becoming a teacher is an arduous process. I mean, it definitely has its rewards, but there are certain demands placed on teachers that I never realized existed until I started my practicum. Forget about all of the lesson planning (the hours spent planning lessons), and the early mornings (I’m up before 5:30 am everyday of the week, if not earlier), the shitloads of materials that I have to carry around with me (I need a rolling backpack for Christmas), and the patience required to deal with the students when you’re having an off day (the early mornings don’t help this). I have to use pencils.

Image source: http://www.fabercastell.com/products/rollerball-pens/RollerballpenAMBITIONpreciousresinblack/148110
The Faber Castell Ambition in precious resin black. Image source: http://www.fabercastell.com/products/rollerball-pens/RollerballpenAMBITIONpreciousresinblack/148110

When I started my practicum, I replaced the ink cartridge in my beautiful Faber Castell Ambition pen. I figured that I would be taking a lot of notes, and that the last thing that I would want is to run out of ink. Well, two weeks ago I ran out of ink, after only one week. I blame the paper that I am using. It’s cheaper paper, and it just sucks ink right out of the pen. What’s more, it’s wide ruled.

Right after school, on that day, I went to the nearest Staples. There, I bought a five-pack of uni-ball Vision Needle pens. It may sound like I had planned to buy these pens, but I didn’t. I stood in the isle and googled the various pens that I saw, looking for the one that might best suit my needs. In all, I spent about 24 minutes in the pens isle at the Staples. I stopped at the Starbucks before I went.

You see, I decided that I wouldn’t replace the cartridge in my Faber Castell because they are fairly expensive, at ~$7 a pop, and aren’t readily available at your local office supply store. I would’ve had to drive into Toronto to find a store that carried the Schmidt refills that I’ve become accustomed to. Once there, I would’ve been tempted to purchase a ballpoint pen with the latest ink-flow technology.

For as good as the uni-ball pens are, they required an adjustment on my part. Of course, any new pen requires time to become acquainted to, but, even after two weeks of regular use, I’m simply not satisfied. They are incredibly light, making it difficult to control. The ink doesn’t remain in the feed tube unless the pen is kept in the writing position, which means that I have to wait a few seconds before the ink flows nicely across the page. Finally, it simply doesn’t have the aesthetic appeal that the Faber Castell does.

So, fine, I have to get used to using pens that are affordable and easily replaced. I can accept this as a professional sacrifice, even if I refuse to use these pens for any personal purpose. And, while I struggle with this adjustment to a lighter, ungraceful pen, the use of pencils has me completely without footing. These pencils are not your standard mechanical pencil, with 0.5 mm lead and a push button. These pencils are the wood pencils that we all remember using in elementary school. They are hexagonal, yellow, and without an eraser. They need to be sharpened using a pencil sharpener, becoming dull after short use by an eight-year-old. And, they become shorter as they are used.

These pencils, too, are light and awkward to use. They were designed to be abused by the inarticulate fingers of burgeoning intellectuals. They stand well against the immense pressure that students place on them to write a few simple, misspelled words. They are, essentially, the tool which is consumed as students learn. And, they are simply awful to write with. Worse than the uni-ball Vision Needle pen that I use to take my notes.

They provide students with the sense that they can, and should, erase their mistakes. This would be fine if the students hadn’t used their pencils to engrave words into the thin Hilroy loose-leaf paper they use for their assignments, impressing the paper beyond the repair capable by any white eraser. If the pencils had any weight to them, the students might not feel the need to transfer the entire weight of their dominant arm through the pencil and into the paper. After all, we hold on most tightly to those things which will most easily escape our grasp. Words seem to have a tenuous relationship with students.

I, too, must admit to suffering from the compulsion to make permanent the markings that I make with these pencils. Sometimes I assist students with their writing tasks, and in these situations I find myself struggling to keep the pencil pressed firmly against the page. To compensate, I hold the pencil tightly between my thumb and first two fingers, and press laboriously into the page, striking a fine balance between friction and freedom.

The strain and exertion required to hold and write with these pencils causes my hands (yes, both) to sweat. My fingers begin to slip down the shaft of the pencil, toward the funnelled, graphite end. The heel of my hand becomes stuck to the page, further preventing me from writing with any grace. The lacquered exterior of these yellow pencils does nothing for me.

When I’m taking my notes, the students ask me what I am writing and why my writing is so small. They wonder at how I can read what I have written, and are confused by cursive. I tell them that it’s a habit I developed when I was their age, and quickly attempt to redirect their attention to the lesson being delivered. If only they knew that I am attempting to answer similar questions by observing them.

Oh, and why aren’t these, Pelikano Juniors, being issued to students?

4 thoughts on “Transitioning to Pencil Use

  1. Perhaps the pencil grips we used to get as children to teach us to hold our yellow pencils correctly or those that cushion the grip of the pencil would be a worth while purchase. You may feel like you grasp the pencil ever so slightly avoiding the sweating hands, the intense writing pressure, and further protecting your fingers from the rigors of writing notes in the third grade.

    I believe you can find these grips just a few feet down the same aisle as the pen aisle you spent multiple minutes in at your local Staples.

    1. Ah, always with the wise words! Thank you very much for the advice; I will certainly travel further down the aisle the next time I’m in Staples.

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