Can you use a fountain pen at work exclusively for all your writing needs? That was the question Pen Heaven gave to me and some other teachers to try and answer. They sent me a Waterman Hemisphere (‘Blue Obsession’, medium nib) to use for a week (and, in the interests of full disclosure, to keep).
There’s no such thing as a typical teacher’s job but my job is even less typical than most. I’m the Head of what’s called a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), which is such a horrible name no PRU ever uses it unless they have to. All PRUs are very different to each other in terms of the age range they work with and the reasons their students come to them. My little school works with between 25 and 50+ students (it varies dramatically through the year) from ages 5 to 17 who are out of mainstream education for just about any possible reason. Most of our students are aged between 14 and 16, many behave in very challenging ways, many have emotional difficulties or huge anxiety issues, and all come to us having failed in or been failed by the mainstream education system.
My week usually consists of some teaching (physics, sociology and statistics – not simultaneously), quite a lot of meetings, quite a lot of problem solving, some strategic planning and thinking, and a fair amount of day-to-day management. I travel quite a lot to meetings, which in my part of the world means I’m very lucky because it’s a beautiful area. I can (and do) plan out each day in quite a lot of detail but you never know what’s going to happen and I have to expect my plans to go completely out of the window without any warning. There is always something new to have to think about despite having been doing this job for years.
It’s a great job though. We get to see the difference we make to young people’s lives and often that difference can be quite profound.
This may not come as a complete surprise but before this challenge I already used a fountain pen quite often! Take a breath and come to terms with that revelation. I use them for planning out my week, writing out ideas and thoughts, and taking notes in meetings. I also often just write, it doesn’t matter what, when I’m stuck. I find it helps me become unstuck.
I therefore thought it wasn’t going to be much of a challenge at all.
I was mostly correct in this thought.
What did I do differently during this week? Well, I marked students’ work with a fountain pen (instead of a variety of colours in a Pilot Coleto). This was fine although the paper we use isn’t particularly fountain pen friendly and when students also use blue ink my marking doesn’t stand out. I wouldn’t make a habit of doing it this way.
I sketched out explanations for students with the Waterman. We work in small groups and most of our teaching is done sat next to students. It was simple enough, and quite enjoyable, to use a fountain pen instead of a gel ink pen. What I didn’t do was use the pen to draw diagrams. It’s hard enough to get our students to use a pencil for diagrams at the best of times without setting a bad example myself. I also didn’t abandon use of the whiteboard, with a dry-wipe marker, when that was the best way of explaining something. I wasn’t going to compromise students’ education. I used the pen to sign letters, which was fine, but didn’t use it to sign anything official because the ink I was using (Waterman Mysterious Blue) wasn’t archival quality. I usually use an OHTO Graphic Liner.
Putting to one side my use of the whiteboard and my use of a pencil for diagrams, there weren’t too many problems during the week. There were some, though, and I should also mention here that I deal with a lot of email and I wasn’t about to abandon that and write letters to everyone.
We use cheap paper and bleeding and feathering were constant issues. I don’t think it’s a good use of tax payers’ money to default to Rhodia for all our use but it’s a shame we can’t! Marking in blue ink isn’t ideal, it needs a contrasting colour, but then that wouldn’t be great for taking meeting notes with. There were times when I could have done with an extra-fine nib but other times when the medium nib was perfect. One nib for all tasks is difficult. But not as difficult as using the same pen every day. This is torture for an addict like myself. One pen and one ink: it isn’t natural.
When I look around colleagues at meetings, there might be one other person who is using a fountain pen. Often there’s no-one else at all. People are perfectly happy with their BICs or the occasional G2. I get this, I really do, but when we’re in jobs that involve so much writing, day after day, it seems a shame not to try to bring a little pleasure to it. What this week showed is that it’s perfectly possible to use a fountain pen for pretty much all your writing needs. The challenge is using just one.
Thank you so much to Pen Heaven for the idea and for sending me the Waterman Hemisphere to try. I’ll be reviewing the pen sometime soon.