Getting to the point

Beware the Timber Terminator that sits at the back of my classroom, for it is a shiny Pied Piper that no child can resist. "Put the pencil down and step away from the sharpener, Ryan," I cry as a familiar figure edges towards it.

While the boy retreats I begin the lesson. "Today, children, you will be learning about the dangers of using our new electric pencil sharpener. Your success criteria will be to prevent global warming from spiralling out of control, to put an end to the rapid depletion of rainforests and to give hope to rare species of amphibian that are on the verge of finding themselves up a creek without a puddle."

Although I don't mention this to the children, our latest item of classroom equipment is also threatening the existence of my sanity. Now is the time to unplug our new pencil sharpener and bury it in the most cluttered corner of my teacher cupboard. I will say somebody stole it. I will tell them I sent it to the caretaker for repair.

Like most classrooms full of young children, mine is not without its fair share of noise. But the advent of the Timber Terminator has taken this to a new level. It reminds me of the time I tried to read the last pages of Charlotte's Web to a class of nine-year-olds just as the builders started to demolish the old toilet block. How dispiriting that Charlotte's heroic little life should ebb away to the soundtrack of a pneumatic pick. How shameful that baby spiders should enter this world to a chorus of wolf whistles and crude but generally complimentary references to Miss Bombshell's natural attributes.

But it is at the heart of our school's new image that its classrooms are dust-free, meticulously organised and resplendent with colourful up-to-date displays. Bristling rows of perfectly honed writing implements that resemble a North Korean military parade support this aim. But are these sharp pencils (to put it bluntly) costing us the earth?

Latest estimates suggest that since the arrival of the Timber Terminator, our turnover in pencils has quadrupled. Ryan alone can turn a 100-year-old California cedar into a wastepaper basket full of 2cm stubs before the end of lunch. World timber prices are rising faster than oil, commodity markets can't keep pace with increased demand for graphite, and Brandon is in danger of reducing me to a gibbering wreck.

It is a fact that Brandon cannot focus on learning for periods in excess of three minutes. By Friday afternoon he makes your average goldfish look like Stephen Hawking. This is when I give him the special task of using a standard pencil sharpener to sharpen every pencil in the classroom. That is why, not to put too fine a point on it, our new electric sharpener has presented us with a dilemma.

"On the other hand, children, if we stop using the new pencil sharpener we can save Planet Earth and keep Brandon from leaping off furniture. Now what do you all say to that?"

The children begin to debate the issue but their arguments are not heard. Everything is drowned out by Ryan and the shrill screech of yet another disappearing forest.

Steve Eddison teaches children aged 7-11 at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield, England.

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