Posted in classroom management, teaching

Economic Principles in Classroom Management: Scarcity

A half-year in an Elementary Classroom has made it abundantly clear that effective classroom management (at any level) cannot take place if there is any level of scarcity in the classroom. Looking back on this, I should have noticed this a year ago when I was teaching Middle School Spanish, but I didn’t. Read on:

Classroom Management makes it possible for teachers to create a learning environment and direct learning activities. Without good classroom management, teachers spend more time directing behavior than they do directing learning.

In my classroom, in a bad area of town, in a charter school expected to meet all the same requirements as a public school with 33% less funding, you can imagine that things are scarce. Students don’t have money to purchase a new spiral when they fill up the old one. Our entire hallway (6 classrooms) had one working pencil sharpener. Our whole school has one working projector. The kids discovered karate (before I came, when they had a sub for 8 weeks…) and broke every single pencil in half. We are rationed to have ONE ream of paper a week per classroom. Yep. Things are scarce.

What is the result of this? Well, looking at societies which, over time, have experienced scarcity related to economic problems, political problems, etc, we can see the result: Scarcity creates Chaos.

Case in point: I ask the kids to get out their spirals so that we can paste an assignment in (oh, did i mention we have like 5 gluesticks?) or write a journal entry or draw a graph, and the room goes crazy. 10 hands shoot up–they need paper. 3 kids sit there dumbfounded, they don’t know what to do. Do they ask for paper? Do they borrow from a friend?; they all start talking (loudly). One kids starts crying because his elbow buddy won’t let him have a piece of paper. I just stand there wishing it were already 3pm.

Then comes the rush for a sharpened pencil. When those run out, the kids break out their “hand sharpeners”. Then suddenly, like a surprise party gone wrong, a confetti of pencil shavings flies into the air.

At first I was in a bind. It had been 6 months since I had worked, and somewhere in the mix I had had a baby. We needed EVERY CENT that I made. My husband was now a full time student, I was the “bread winner”–and I was only winning enough to buy the bread–forget about fruits, veggies and meat. I couldn’t buy things like paper, and pencils and a pencil sharpener and scissors and glue stick, and neither could *most* of my kids. If there were a title before title 1, they would be that title. (ha, see, i made a funny!)

So, i suffered. and so did their learning. Until, one day, we finally had some extra money. I spent $50 dollars on spiral notebooks and glue. and boy did that go a long way! suddenly, behavior was manageable, because kids had some of the basics.

Then attention shifted to the pencil situation. 2 months later, i finally had enough money for an electric sharpener. These last 3 weeks have been heaven in my classroom. Kids stay seated, they don’t fight, they ask nicely, they talk softly. why? because there is no longer scarcity in my classroom.

The Chaos is over. …and so is the school year (almost).

Thank the Lord that no year in the future will ever be like this one was.




Spanish Teacher, in love with life, and dancing til its over. I like giraffes and chocolate. If we aren't living for God, then what are we living for?

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