Saturday, April 08, 2006

Boys And Pencils

In my decade-long teaching career there has been one recurring theme. That is approximately 25% of the boys in my classes do not bring pencils for their scantron-based science test. What is that about boys and pencils? Well, being a scientist I did a limited study, based upon the 125 students I have in the classroom (62 girls, 63 boys). The results were as follows:

Boys don't bring pencils because it's not cool to carry a pencil!

Girls carry pencils because it's important to be prepared.

Secondary issues were:

Boys just plain forget to bring one or claim they lost it.

Girls almost always have a pocketbook with them and having a pencil in it is no big deal. In fact, many girls carry two pencils with them and usually give one to the boy. No, I didn't question the girls with two pencils why they carry two. Maybe that will be my next study.

How can you correct the boy/pencil problem? I came up with a novel way of handling this issue. First, you need to understand the mind of a male high school student. They want to impress the girls! No male high schooler wants to be called irresponsible or immature in front of the girls, especially by teachers that are respected by the students. Second, you need them to understand that responsible behavior is rewarded with good grades and respect from others. That means having individual meeting with them and letting them know that high school girls are always looking for the boys that shows promise as an adult (not always true, but most of the boys believe that anyway) and that colleges are always looking for the good student. Finally, all boys want respect from their peers and the adults they interact with. Even the more obnoxious boys crave respect. The ultimate form of respect for a teenage boy is being told he is maturing into a man.

My solution? Is to equate the pencil with manhood. I simply tell my students that the boys who have pencils are real men, responsible, and respected. The boys who don't bring pencils? I tell them that their still boys and not mature enough to be considered a man and have the responsibilities of middle schoolers. This illicits laughter by the girls in the classroom and yes, embarasses the boys. The next test and every test after, all the boys magically have pencils. Is this corporal punishment? Noooooooo! It is an effective teaching technique that is not racist, religious, cultural, or biased in any way. It is based upon personal responsibility and the tools that all students must have in a school setting. Than again, its a rare female that fails to have a pencil with her.


NYC Educator said...

I like to give them really crappy little broken pencils without erasers. Real men don't need erasers.

MsMalarkey said...

I think it sounds like a good idea. My homework for the night before a test is to get a pencil. I tell the kids it's the easiest hw they'll ever have.

My sixth grade boys would freak out if I mentioned impending manhood to them, LOL. Probably works best in HS.

QuakerDave said...

It works. Been doing a variation on this riff for years: "You show up to work on a car, or to build a house, you bring your tools. You show up for language arts, same thing."

They get it. And anything that puts an eighth grade boy in a position where one man sees him as another "man" gets his respect.

Such little things matter so much.

Chaz said...


Glad to see that it works with eight grade boys. It certainly works with 10th grade boys. I do like nyc educator's idea to give the ones who resist this approach the broken, crappy pencils with no eraser. Hopefully that will be next year.

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