a pen with a note“You got a pen?” I taught for 18 years and lost about a million pens. I was mystified–even before the Digital Age, no one thought they should bring a pen? Ever. Not even during exam season.

“I have my pen.” That sounds nicer than “No.”  I always struggled to keep just one pen for myself.  Not that I needed it often–I type. No one can read feedback I write anyway. I have to do face-to-face commentary or send it via email. My handwriting isn’t good.

Every once in a while, though, I want a pen. And teachers know this problem–when you want a pen, it’s usually gone, because students don’t bring pens.

There are many solutions for this, like taping them to a bank chain, or ordering pens with obnoxious sayings or personalizing. I saw a pack of pens in the store that said, “No, you cannot use my pen” (that’s suitable for school) and “Dr. Johnson’s Erectile Dysfunction Clinic” (most certainly not suitable for anything younger than college). I’ve imagined setting up a little radio-frequency electric shock zone

like those dog fences where if the dog goes too close to the line the collar beeps, then shocks.

I’ve tried hiding my pen from myself. It doesn’t work because when I need it–it’s hidden. Anything easy enough for me to find is easy enough for a kid to find and swipe.

So, none of these solutions work.

How’s a teacher to keep a pen these days?

I stumbled on a solution by accident. It works–the fountain pen.

“What IS this, Miss?” A potential pen swiper picked up the pen, opened the cap, then frowned.

“It’s my pen.”

The first time a kid sees a fountain pen, it’s a teachable moment. They pick it up, hold it up to the light, look at it. Some get ink on themselves. Fashionistas hold it away or poke it. Once a kid examines a fountain pen, they want to try it–briefly.  “You got one of those ink things?” some ask. They are asking for an ink well as if I may, in fact, be that old.

“No. That’s a quill pen. The ink’s in the pen.” I cringe but I offer to let them try out the pen. “Write lightly or you’ll wreck it.” I demonstrate. Otherwise, they stab at the paper, which can ruin the nib. “Sometimes you have to tap it or get the ink flowing.”

“This is, like, a Thomas Jefferson pen.”  They scratch around for a while, declare it to be “old and weird,” and put it back. It was fun to play with but this is nothing they want to steal. Just to make sure, I say, “Careful, sometimes it leaks…that ink won’t come off your sneakers.”  Since sneakers and clothes are way cooler than “old and weird” pens, this seals the deal. That pen (which does not leak, by the way) is safe as gold in Fort Knox.

Once I realized I finally had a pen that nobody under 95 years old wanted, I began to fall in love with the fountain pen. I bought a bunch of entry-level Pilot Metropolitan pens, and refilled empty ink colors with bottled ink and a little syringe.  The pens run anywhere from $12-$24 each. I bought them on overstock megasale because at the time, I thought a pen that cost twenty bucks was outrageous.  I discovered it’s not.

“Eventually, you’ll start to get a feel for your pen,” someone said, “Then you’ll know it’s time to level up.”

Truth be told, there was one thing about my pens I wanted to improve if I was going to “level up.” The cap fell off. It didn’t click on right. Pen snobs call this “posting–” The pen cap should click on and stay clicked on. Mine fit on then fell off and bounced across the floor.  I didn’t want to have to crawl under my desk to look for pen caps anymore.

“Leveling up” costs big bucks in pen world. People commonly spend hundreds on their fountain pens, but some spend thousands. There’s a reason old people give “classic” pens to 22-year-old graduates (who don’t appreciate them) as a rite of passage. I have one, but I was too afraid to lose it to use it much back then.

I’m older and responsible now–the precise age where people begin to appreciate the better things in life. I guess a pen is like anything else–wine, cheese, chocolate… “We don’t waste good cheese on kids,” I told my son.  The same was true for chocolate until he found my stash.

But, the good news is while students will eat pretty much anything off my desk, they will not touch a fountain pen after the initial curiosity is satisfied.

So, the time there’s a gift-giving occasion and you don’t know what you want, ask for a fountain pen. Treasure it–because it’s the one thing that will never be “borrowed” from your teacher desk.

Trust me.