Preparing for the ‘Pencil Phantom’

Published 2:51 pm Tuesday, July 19, 2011

By JASON MAYFIELD / Guest Columnist

I love our local office supply stores in Shelby County, but just getting near one in the summer gives me one of two nightmares.

Nightmare No. 1: I buy the store’s “Back-to-School” supplies for my students only to see the students 20 years down the road in my dream. The students are now office people themselves, and they interrupt their bosses to say things like “I’m sorry. I’d love to take notes at this meeting, but I need some paper — and a pen.”

Nightmare No. 2: My student is still a student, but outside the classroom — alone and abandoned. The student calls to me, “I was without a pencil, and you yelled at me. I was without paper, and you gave me a zero. Your lack of love, of concern, crushed my adolescent ego, and now I am scarred for life.”

To buy or not to buy? To help or to enable? These questions keep me up late at night before the college football season begins and I must spend my time worrying about my team.

In some years, I’ve bought the store out, only to end up with the laziest group of kids, seemingly, by the end of May. I’ve also started a school year demanding students supply themselves — and watch that strategy blow up when I blow up over a student sitting at a desk doing nothing “because I don’t have a pencil.”

In my days, it seemed a spirit, maybe a “Phantom of the Pencil,” haunted the halls of Briarwood Christian Junior High. The “Phantom” theory at least explained to me why I could never find a pencil when I needed one, why I had several “panic” moments when I realized I wasn’t equipped for class.

I wished back then that I had a teacher who understood, one who had an extra pencil I could borrow. Every year, I vow to skip stocking my room for my students. Ever year, the vow lasts about as long as most New Year’s resolutions. In a perfect world, I’d have landed a corporate sponsor for my room by now. Just as Michael Jordan’s professional basketball coach never had to equip him with shoes, I’d have all my students signed to multi-million dollar supply contracts. For some, it would take a multi-million dollar deal to keep up with everything they consume.

Happy shopping.

Jason Mayfield is a gifted instructor at Columbiana Middle School.