What to Do When Students Mishandle Supplies

First things first, take a breath.

We all know teachers spend A LOT of their own money on classroom supplies. Because of that personal investment, it can be challenging when a student breaks, loses, or otherwise misuses a piece of technology or other equipment.

This past week on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE!: “A kid stuck a pen into my pencil sharpener when I wasn’t looking, and now it’s broken. I didn’t see who did it, and nobody is ratting him out. Any ideas on how to address this? I’m thinking of just not buying another one because I’m not made of money!”

Here are some of the top suggestions from our community of teachers for dealing with this type of situation.

Don’t reward the behavior. In this case, a nice, new pencil sharpener was broken. “Don’t replace it.” —Rebecca R.

Especially, we might add, if you bought the supply with your own money. Instead, use any school-issued supplies or make the students bring their own mini-sharpeners.



Divide and conquer. Some students are more apt to speak in private instead of in front of a huge group of their peers. “Can you have the kids each write down what they saw? Maybe someone will feel safer speaking out in writing.” —Terri M.

“You could even explain how if you are a witness to a crime, you must give your statement. You could even make it an excellent writing opportunity.” —Kristine K.


If no one speaks, hold all of them responsible. “The same thing happened to me. I told my kids that since no one would confess, they all were responsible and had to pay for it. I wrote a letter home to the parents saying that the kids each had to bring in $3 to buy a new one. Most parents were happy with how I handled it, and many said the money came from the kid’s allowance!” —Elizabeth B.

“I give everyone a group detention. They won’t stay bonded together if they are all punished. When I’ve done that, at least someone has caved and told the truth.” —Jennifer L.


Make the consequence logical. Since punishment is ultimately part of a bigger learning process, the student has to understand the connection between the wrongful action and the consequence. “I had a similar situation, and after I caught the culprit, she no longer got to sharpen her own pencils. Someone did it for her. This was a big deal because, for some strange reason, my kids really love using the pencil sharpener.” —Tasha L.


Make the students problem-solve. Don’t jump in to resolve the problems. Put it to the students. “Don’t buy another one. Someone broke it, and the others are bystanders. Let the students figure out a solution, or they’ll be left with no way to sharpen their pencils.” —Carla W.


Avoid the issue in the future by not sharing expensive equipment with students. “I only take out my sharpener on testing days.” —Jessica D.

“Ugh, I know the feeling all too well. I had a brand new stapler, after students had broken so many others, and, after some hesitation, I let students use it to staple together their in-class essays. Instead of picking it up and pressing it together, one kid stuck his essay in and slammed his hand down on the stapler so hard that it jammed up and wouldn’t work. I eventually cleared it out but renewed my resolve not to let students use it again. From now on, I’ll do the stapling.” —Erin F.


Incentivize kids to take care of classroom materials. “We each have a teacher budget, and I have told my kids that I will buy games at the end of the year with our funds. So if I have to buy glue, tape, pencils, or pencil sharpeners, that means they’ll get fewer games. As a result, they are great at making sure all pencils are picked up, and other things like that, at the end of the day.” —Tonia K.

Teachers, what other suggestions do you have for Beth? Sound off in the comments below!