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To the classroom pencil amid Covid-19
by Paul Ruth

Somewhere there is a classroom with
a drawer in the teacher’s desk,
or a bin partially filled in front of the class,
or off to the side,
or by the door near the hand-crank pencil sharpener used
only when the electric one burns out,
that contains used pencils.

At the beginning of the year,
they might have been new.
Some were a carryover
from the year before.

Some might have been donated new,
but often they are donated by forgetfulness
on the desks, floors, and in the corners
of a lost thought.
The hexagon with an eraser tip
is the classic shape.
Many are round,
coated with a message or holiday theme.

Yet they all wait quietly
for brainstorming sessions,
math calculations (where you need to show your work), and
historical exposés on why all this matters.
In the right hands it can even be used for a representation in graphite.

If the pen is mightier than the sword
then the classroom pencil is the infantry,
the pawns in a game of chess.
It is the unsung hero given a medal for bravery.
The frontline worker only noticed now.

But it isn’t a fighter.
It is a peaceful rendition
hopefully waiting
for the classroom to fill
for minds to awaken
for hope to spill
over jumpstarting motivation,
passion,
enlightenment.

Has the classroom pencil seen its last days?
I think not!

It would be pulled through a fist
encasing it with a sanitary wipe
while a pandemic rages
and safety fades.
Although, the sticky pencils always seemed to get thrown back in the bin.

Still used to scribble notes
when despite its best efforts,
the computer just can’t quite keep up with our thoughts.

So they wait for the longest break
to end.
They wait to do what they have to do.
To forge ahead
to do what they did
once again
when we will begin again to live in a world
free from dread.

PHOTO: Student with pencils by Sashasan, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wanted to capture not just the person but the experience of the teaching profession during these times. The classroom pencil bin was always something I and others took for granted in the classroom. Now I understand how deeply Covid has impacted our lives, right down to the playful practicality of borrowing a pencil to do schoolwork. In writing this, I thought of all the teachers I have known and all the classrooms I have been in as a teacher and student.

paul ruth

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Ruth is a high school English teacher and adjunct college instructor from the Metro Detroit area. He has written opinion articles on the state of education in Michigan and makes his aphorisms available through his Instagram account @envisionedaphorism. He also co-produces the Instagram account @limmieslimericks with his girlfriend with limericks from the perspective of his Old English Sheepdog named Limerick.