Monday, January 22, 2007

They Just Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

Have any of you noticed that the pencils they make and sell these days are just, well, crap?

Mrs. Math first brought it to our attention a few weeks ago at lunch. "Have any of you noticed anything weird about the pencils this year?" she asked. "I don't think they're as well made as they used to be."

We all pondered that for a moment and realized that yeah, we had noticed something weird about pencils lately. For one thing, they don't sharpen well at all. The kids will try, and try, and try to get a decent sharp point on their pencil and all they get for their efforts is a useless little nub.

Look at pencil
Look at pencil
Look at pencil
Look at pencil

...and on and on until everyone's teeth are on edge and I'm about ready to just give the kid a mechanical pencil and tell him to sit down.

And it doesn't matter what type of sharpener it is. I have an electric one and a new hand crank one, and neither one of them do a good job on some of the pencils the kids have. Of course my electric one is now starting to run on its own - with no pencil or student nearby - which is causing a bit of hysteria in some of my classes. Some kids are convinced there's a ghost in the room sharpening a ghostly pencil. If that's the case, he's using crap pencils just like the kids are.

Maybe it's the wood. I've noticed that on most of the pencils that don't sharpen well the wood is definitely lighter in color, nearly white in fact, than the pencils that sharpen well. This wood is so soft that I can pretty much pick at it and tear it apart with my fingernails. In other words, the pencil is pretty much useless.

I'm guessing that the pencils with the lighter wood, the ones that split and won't sharpen well are probably cheaper than the better made pencils. And since a lot of my students get free and reduced lunch you can bet that mom is buying them the absolute cheapest pencils she can buy in order to save money.

A pencil is a simple thing, but an absolutely vital thing for a student to have. And a pencil that won't sharpen is just useless.

I may just have to spend a bunch of my BEP money next year buying really good, reliable pencils.

And just what is the world coming to when you can't even rely on a damn pencil?


leesepea said...

The only ones that still sharpen properly are the Dixon Ticonderoga pencils (yellow with green writing).

You're right, though.

All the others are absolute crap.

I went three FOUR electric pencil sharpeners in my classroom in the last two years, and I was blaming the students for using them incorrectly. I initiated a "Pencil Swap" jar where I'd sharpen pencils at the beginning of the day and let them trade me their cheap pencils for one of my freshly sharpened ones.

It took a week of cheap pencil replacements and my incessant wondering on how my BRAND NEW pencil sharpener could be doing such a poor job before I realized it was the generic office supply store brand pencils that were to blame.

Trust me on this.

Dixon Ticonderoga.

You get get them in a pack of 72 for $8.96 at Costco.

They're more expensive, but it's worth it.

They're even making these new ones that are kinda of triangular, so it teaches the kids how to hold the pencil properly. The WHOLE pencil is shaped this way, not just some squidgy thing at the end, so no matter how nubby they get it, they still have to grip it correctly.

Oh, how the need for a nicely sharpened pencil can throw a wrench in the works!

teachergirl said...

I can't believe I have had the same thoughts; Dixon Ticonderoga is the only way to go. I thought my students had ruined the electric pencil sharpener by putting the colored pencils in it; nope, they are putting the horrible cheap pencils in it. When the governor gives me my $100 this year (will he, won't he?) I'm buying good pencils.

My left handed daughter swears by the triangular shaped ones.

They even smell right.

Anonymous said...

Some of the cheap ones are using recycled paper instead of wood, I believe. The leads keep breaking and breaking. The kids are frustrated and it is good to know that it is not just at our school. Thanks for the info.

Princess Lionhead said...

I hear ya, sister!! I spend waaaay too much time waiting while a line of students moan and groan and grind their pencils down to nubs. I want to hand all the kids a pack of mechanical pencils and be done with it!

Stacey Shubitz said...

After going through more sharpeners than I want to count, I vote for mechanical pencils!


Mrs. T said...

I am sooo picky about pencils. I LOVE the Ticonderogas, hate the mechanicals- the lead squeaks when I write and it breaks all the damn time. When I was a kid I hated the Trusty brand pencils, they were made out of a plastic-like/non-wood substance and they never got sharp enough for me.
Novelty pencils are crappy, too, unless the design is painted on the pencil. Otherwise, it's a plastic wrapper that actually peels off of the pencil when you sharpen it.

Anonymous said...

Sawdust with some sort of binder. That's what the cheap ones are made of. Recycled wood product leavings. And sadly made somewhere in the far east for cheap, cheap I suppose.
I'm glad I'm not the only one whose students struggle with this. It heads my list of pet peeves.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I've had problems too over the last couple of years. Mechanical could be way to go, however, my 9 year olds take them apart, steal each others lead, etc. They have been banned....more trouble than they are worth. I'm going to go buy a collection of Dixon Ticonderogas!

McGivney Flyer said...

I have loved the Ticonderogas since childhood, and now as a teacher (who is also the test coordinator in the building) I never buy anything else. Not only to they sharpen beautifully, but they actually ERASE as well. No more ripped test booklets! They are worth the price.

I also like the Tri-Write version of the Ticonderogas--the kids seem to be more comfortable holding them.

One year when I was still in a regular classroom (and fabric painting and appliqueing (?)sweatshirts was in), a parent paid tribute to my love of them by painting a shirt with Ticonderogas on it that said "Dixon Ticonderogas--the Reason I Teach." It totally made me laugh!

Iknow I'm a little strange, but do other teachers love school supplies as much as I do?

Mister Teacher said...

Like leesepea, I do the "pencil swap" thing too. And it is very frustrating to see how many pencils my kids go through in a day.
Speaking of the general crappyness of today's pencils, I have found a couple that don't even have lead in them! I just wind up with a wood point, which would be great if I wanted to hunt vampires; not so much for doing multiplication problems.

Smarten Up said...

Why you little whippersnappers! When I was in school they didn't even have no pencils- we used ink pens that we dipped in a little jar on the front of our desks- Those was the days! Smarten Up!
If yous would jus do yer job and taech, ya wouldn't need no freakin' pencils.

Unknown said...

Faber Castel had the best pencils in the 70s and 80s. They featured the NFL football teams but wrote the best!