What’s the worst thing a child has brought into your classroom?
If you were in front of a class last year you might be tempted to say JoJo Bows, those giant hair clips you attach to your head when you really don’t want the teacher to be able to see what the person behind you is doing. Or the person behind them. Or even the person behind them.
Maybe you might point your finger at the humble plastic water bottle that soon became that flippin’ plastic water bottle.
Perhaps, most insidiously of all, you might – with a shudder – recall the horror of the fidget spinner. Marketed as an aid to concentration, it offered little but distraction. Truly a triumph of spin over substance.
All of the above were banned from my classroom last year. Yes, the children complained, yes, they got over it and yes, we got on with some learning instead.
An ever-present danger
As we return to school, there is another threat to the stability of our classrooms and the sanity of our teachers. This threat comes in bright colours, it comes bedecked in cute cartoon characters, it even comes scented with candy and cola.
Classroom evil, thy name is novelty stationery.
Many of us fought the first skirmishes of the Stationery War last year as we confiscated highlighters shaped like nail polish, erasers the shape (but not taste) of macarons and rainbow pencil cases taller than the child carrying them.
With the benefit of a long, hot summer filled with back-to-school marketing, 2017 promises to be the year in which novelty stationery runs riot across our nation’s classrooms.
Novelty stationery is nothing new, of course: Troll Dolls on top of pencils; the whole spectrum of Sharpies; that pen your mate Jamie had that showed you a picture of a nice, young lady in her underwear if you held it upside down.
But what marks the new breed out as something to approach with a far greater degree of caution is in how it bills itself. One retailer, Smiggle, says that it is the creator of stationery that is colourful (fine), fun (sure, why not?) and fashion-forward (ahhh…let me stop you there).
A novelty stationery arms race
While we teachers obviously sit far above any concerns about how fashion forward we are – checked shirt, smart trousers, sensible shoes; good all-day, every-day – it is impossible not to note the pernicious influence each "must-have" item has on the children in front of us.
We’re entering an arms race of confectionery stationery, where a pen’s effectiveness as a writing implement will be secondary to whether it looks like a Werther’s Original. Children that come to school on a Monday without the on trend self-stacking set of highlighters will spend all week badgering parents for them, only to find that by Friday everyone who is anyone has moved on to rubbers in the shape of unicorns.
Fashion is a fickle mistress and bringing her into the classroom can only have a disruptive effect.
Imagine the poor child, unable to write the horror story you have so carefully modelled because they only have their silver sparkles pen with them and that only goes with fairy tales. We all know maths should always be completed in pencil, but which one? The one shaped like an arrow or the one that glows in the dark? God help the poor teacher who wants to do any teaching the afternoon someone’s precious light-up pencil sharpener goes missing.
So make your first order of business in September the banning of novelty stationery from your classroom and insist that the school pencil case sticks to boring old HB, truly the short-back-and-sides of the stationery world.
Ian Goldsworthy is a primary school teacher. He tweets @Ian_Goldsworthy