If I ever decide to give up teaching and go and seek my fame and fortune in the outside world, I think I could do worse than going into the stationery business.
Within the world of key stage 2, stationery is a powerful currency. In my classroom, the right pencil case can confer instant status, as well as a tremendous sense of wellbeing.
I get the attraction, I really do. I’m as partial to a shiny new set of colouring pencils as the next person, and the annual end-of-August trip to WH Smith was a highlight of my own school days.
Our school line on bringing in your own stationery was clear. In these belt-tightening times, everything is rationed, so if the parents wanted to provide pens, pencils, rubbers and glue sticks, that could only be a good thing. In theory. The reality, however, was less helpful. Instead of pupils bringing in a small pencil case with a handwriting pen, a pencil and a glue stick, out of the bags came heaps of fashionable stationery that collectively could have stocked a small shop.
There were sequined pencil cases with compartments, pencil cases in the shape of rockets and robots; ones that play music and come with mirror attachments. It was like a stationery design convention. Then there were the pens: pens that lit up, scented pencils, sequinned pencils, pencils that were seemingly capable of doing everything short of actually underlining the date and title and getting on with some maths.
Action against stationery
A great amount of time went into arranging these items. One child had to balance his maths book on the corner of his desk to leave room for his glitter pen collection, 26 rubbers shaped like fruit and vegetables and a giant Eiffel Tower pencil sharpener.
After a week of reminding children to gaze at the whiteboard and not their new rubber, and several lunchtimes of presiding over yet another Jeremy Kyle-esque debate entitled “he took my favourite pencil and now I think the world’s going to end”, I decided to take action.
The pencil cases were banned. They were all allowed to keep one pen and one pencil, and the rest had to be put away with the promise of breaking them out in the afternoons (dependent on good behaviour).
Of course, like with all obsessions, interest can tip over into addiction. Without his gel pens, I could see Jason’s fingers twitching uncontrollably. Megan’s eyes kept darting from her school-issue pencil to the sparkly feathered one that sat on my desk. And Alfie asked me 17 times in 20 minutes whether he could have his rubbers back.
They didn’t all have to go cold turkey though. Among all the expensive glittery excess sat one boy clutching his most treasured possession: a “good work” pencil I’d given him weeks ago, now sharpened nearly to a stub but definitely not standard issue and as close as he was going to get to a status symbol.
Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym for a teacher in the Midlands. She tweets @jo_brighouse