cause i ain't got a pencil

Last week, I saw a poem by Joshua T. Dickerson posted on Twitter.

I don’t know anything about this poem.  I don’t know anything about this poet.

11988747_10100420955294457_7903090834599342656_nBut it stuck with me, and I knew my students needed it.
I haven’t always been a “give the kid a damn pencil already” sort of teacher, but I have been for the last few years.

No bargaining, no collateral, no quarters, no shaming. I just give the kid the damn pencil.  

I didn’t have any Great Revelation.  I just remembered:  It’s not my job to teach my students how to keep pencils, it’s my job to teach them how to read and write.  They need a pencil for that.

I knew they’d connect with this poem.
As we move into practicing informative writing, I used this poem as a mentor text today on how we can “show and tell” in our writing.

12249892_10100420955314417_7986356553911748857_nWe analyzed it together, first in notebooks, and then out loud.  We pulled it apart, and we debated it on whether or not this teacher was a jerk, citing evidence from the text.

I said that I thought the teacher was a total jerk, and some students agreed, using evidence from the poem to back up their claims.

Some students, despite providing evidence from the poem that this narrator had a rough life, said that the kid should have had a damn pencil for class, and that his life was no excuse.  (We’ve heard that before, right?)

12241607_10100420944081927_3936555186744413407_nAfter we talked, and I introduced informative writing, my students spent five minutes writing in their journals about what they wished their teachers knew about them.

(Some students needed pencils, and I gave them a damn pencil.)

Afterwards, they spent 5-6 minutes illustrating their thoughts on computer paper.  They knew I’d be showing these to other teachers, but I promised that they’d stay anonymous, even as they were handing them to me (nameless, upside-down) on their way out the door.

As you’d expect, many were heartbreaking.



12240133_10100420944141807_3381754357585315796_nInform and explain.  Show and tell.  Tell and show.

We won’t know unless we ask.  


8 thoughts on “#IWishMyTeacherKnew…

  1. Joshua T Dickerson says:

    Hi! I’m the author of the poem. Follow me on Instagram @joshuatdickerson.

    Also follow me on Facebook at Joshua T. Dickerson.

    Please send me a personal message. I would love to talk to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so happy you took initiative to create a class exercise with this poem. It’s crazy to think that even as young as your students, children begin to take on burdens that we as adults or even teenagers even fail to realize. Really love your post, thank you for sharing!

    Coincidentally, I actually just read a post of another teacher regarding their students, and I thought you might appreciate this read! https://medium.com/@msannazhang/why-my-obedience-as-a-chinese-daughter-does-not-make-me-powerless-238c3cb21286


  3. Coralie Griffith says:

    It’s not just pencils. Once I had a student trying to sleep in my class. After waking him up for the third time, he apologized and said that the reason he was falling asleep was that he couldn’t sleep the night before. He and his brothers and sisters were on the floor all night because of the shooting on their street. There was apparently a gang fight on his block (caught it on the news later) that went on until almost morning. Other students in the class collaborated what he said, saying they could hear it on their streets. I let him sleep the rest of the block and make up the work later that week. Sometimes, an exception to the rules is needed. Children and teens are humans first and students second.


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