What do they do? Tales from a school volunteer

Since September, I’ve volunteered bi-weekly in my daughter’s second grade class.  Seeing the inner workings of her class room brightens my day.  Her teacher is wonderful, friendly and fun, but firm. She leads the class with confidence. Over the course of the year, I’ve seen the children blossom under her guidance. Ms Turner knows how to bring out the best in each child and I’m grateful my daughter has been part of her class.

But one thing still mystifies me. What do those children do to those pencils?

After sharpening the pencils once early in the school year, I realized that is an easy task for me to start on when Ms. Turner is busy instructing the class. It is a tedious task, but I don’t mind it since the school has an electric pencil sharpener. I’ve watched the pencils dwindle in number, even discarding a few myself as the stubs became too short to feed to the whirring blades of the sharpener. It pleases me that the children use them so much. I see them scribbling away in notebooks or working on math pages when I visit, but sharpening the pencils reminds me how much work they do as they learn.

But evidence of tooth marks tell me they sometimes suffer anxiety. By now, most pencils feature multiple bite marks. I picture the children I’ve come to know putting the pencil in their mouth as they apply “strategies” to their science or math tests.  Perhaps the kinetic learners need this gesture in order to get their thoughts in order, for others it’s nerves.

Most worrisome of all are the pencils whose severely dented metal ends and lack of erasers indicate a number of parents will one day pay for braces.  My daughter assures me she doesn’t chew on the metal, but she said nothing about chomping down on erasers. At least she cleared up one mystery for me.  Last week she informed me the boys beside her bothered her by competing to see who could break a pencil first.  Now I know why I discarded four jagged stubs today.

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