Meditation on a Broken Pencil

I was grabbing my book bag from my closet when I saw the pencil, broken in two, lying on the floor. I couldn't help but feel curious. How did it get there? Who broke it and why?

As teachers we're supposed to have eyes in the back of our heads. But clearly at some point, someone broke this pencil and tossed it (aside? across the room?) without me taking notice. And here it was now, strangely hard to ignore.

After almost four years of working with eight, nine and ten-year-olds, their inner workings still remain something of a mystery. On a daily basis, if not more, one of my kids will say or do something that will just leave completely flummoxed. Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, I still somehow expect them to behave according to certain rules of logic and rationality. The broken pencil seemed to be another reminder of the random nature of their actions.

Decoding the origins of this broken pencil seems an apt metaphor for decoding my students. Was it broken out of anger or frustration? I'm constantly struggling to help my kids express their emotions in healthy, helpful ways. Still, more than a few seem unable of using language to express their emotions. These students often choose tantrums, violence toward others or property to show their feelings.

If not anger, perhaps boredom was the culprit. As March gives way to April, in spite of my best efforts, my classroom like many others, seems to be stuck in the doldrums. The kids are still loving our social studies and science lessons. But test prep lessons for ELA and Math seem to drag on. I feel that way, and I allegedly have a greater attention span than a third grader.

Of course the last explanation that comes to mind is outright deviance. Not mutually exclusive from the other two possibilities, this is my concession that "kids will be kids".There's a number of reasons a kid might have to break a pencil and toss it to the ground. It may have a deeper implication about what the kids feeling, what's going on in my classroom or in the kid's home. Or it could just be one of my kids who prefers to act on random impulses rather than think of about the ensuing seconds. I caught one of my boys breaking his pencil in half, "because the point broke," so I'm all to familiar with this type of "reasoning".

Whatever the reasons that brought that broken pencil to my closet, it illustrates one of my greatest frustrations as a teacher. No matter how much time I spend with my students, it seems in some ways they'll remain mysteries to me.


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