I frequently bring my own equipment to the classroom for student use. Some students forget my announcements to bring certain items. Some items are infrequently used or kept ready on standby when time permits or need to be carefully prepared beforehand. For these reasons, I provide my own equipment, rather than requiring students to bring them.

The problem is, the students are walking out the door with my stuff. By the end of the year, I must go out and buy everything again. Most items individually are cheap (~$1 each), so I do not think any administrator or security officer will pay attention when I complain, however, the quantities add up over time.

I am surprised to find such behavior among college freshmen. How should I deal with these thefts?

  • 6
    Absent mindedness? Mixing it up with their own notes, pencils, etc that they just throw in their backpacks? What kind of equipment are we talking about? Sep 4, 2014 at 15:03
  • 6
    Beyond the obvious collecting a form of collateral which works for any item but requires more work from you, it might be helpful to know what the items are. If we're talking about something small then maybe you affix a piece of cardboard to it so it's harder to shove into a backpack or pocket. Sep 4, 2014 at 15:58
  • 4
    If it is something frequently required for class, why do you have to use your own (personal) items, rather than equipment owned by your employer? Sep 4, 2014 at 19:45
  • 27
    My old mathematics teacher would take a shoe for every piece of equipment borrowed. This meant they could not walk out. Sep 4, 2014 at 20:48
  • 4
    @Alizter: I'm reading this on a day when I met a barefooted guy in the lunchroom. Sep 4, 2014 at 22:19

13 Answers 13


Unfortunately I do not have enough rep to write a comment on Moriarty's answer, but I think that it is most likely because of absent-mindedness in the part of the student.

I wanted to comment the following idea if you're lending out something like pens: My mother used to work with students who would need to come in, go through a long document and sign it before leaving. She would go through an enormous number of pens, as the students often just popped them back into their pockets by accident.

She came across the idea of flower pens (gluing a big fake fabric flower to the end of the pen) and implemented it on the pens in her office, and she said that suddenly her pens stopped disappearing - since they were now tricky for the students to mistake them for their own, or accidentally stuff them in their pockets.

Depending on equipment you could try other things (I imagine you could spray-paint some things in bright neon or shiny colours, attach big tags or tassles to the items) to make them stand out a little more.

(A sample pen: http://ideasforfrenchclass.blogspot.com/2010/09/flower-pens.html)


I add an assignment in the grading system with a single point: "returned all borrowed equipment."

I don't actually use it in the calculations, but seeing it in the gradebook (which students can access) encourages compliance.

  • Ps. This is for equipment they borrow for a few days, so my solution does not quite work for the OP which is concerning in-class use...
    – RoboKaren
    Sep 4, 2014 at 17:29
  • What exactly is this equipment (if you don't mind me asking)?
    – 299792458
    Sep 6, 2014 at 6:00
  • In my case, field equipment like audio data recorders, mikes, etc.
    – RoboKaren
    Sep 6, 2014 at 6:58

I can see two solutions here:

1. Deter students from borrowing or walking away with equipment

If safety is not a concern, you could require a shoe as a deposit. No student will get very far after class without realizing what they're missing. It will save you having to remind your students to return said items.

You could also take a tally of all loaned items and release the class only when all have been returned.

Another solution is for the replacement equipment to be clumsy, comical, or embarrassing. Giant calculators might get the job done, but they won't be inadvertently taken out of class and you might not see many repeat customers.

Unfortunately, any deterrent besides loudly pronouncing at the end of the class "please return anything you have borrowed!", or perhaps taking a tally, may be difficult to implement without giving a distinct "I don't trust you and am going to treat you all like children" impression.

2. Stop lending out equipment they are supposed to have.

A more cynical point of view is that university students should be intelligent, responsible, and well enough prepared to bring any equipment that is either listed as a course requirement to have, or is generally expected (e.g. a calculator, stationery).

Your students are probably less likely to prepare properly for class precisely because they know you have spare equipment. If they're supposed to have their own stuff, make it the students' own problem if they forgot. They will only learn if failure carries consequences. If you abolish your loaning policy, I suspect the fraction of students coming properly prepared will quickly, and significantly, improve.

  • 14
    A shoe, their ID card, or driver's license are all good collateral.
    – Bill Barth
    Sep 4, 2014 at 16:08
  • 4
    "A more cynical point of view" - how is what follows an even slightly cynical point of view?
    – G. Bach
    Sep 4, 2014 at 18:08
  • 8
    @BrianS Withholding an ID card is illegal in many jurisdictions. Also, some universities have explicit rules against holding student cards as collateral like this. It's morally dodgy, and needlessly humiliating without being in any way funny. Claiming a shoe as a deposit is awesome, though.
    – SáT
    Sep 4, 2014 at 20:24
  • 7
    @SáT How is taking an ID card humiliating? I agree that it's (at the least) poor practice because it's very easy for the student to forget he handed it in as collateral. If you mean that it's humiliating because the teacher is appearing untrusting with regards to something of inconsequential value, I would agree. At least taking a shoe conveys the distrust with good humour.
    – Moriarty
    Sep 4, 2014 at 21:03
  • 6
    Wait. I don't understand. Making a list of their names says "I don't trust you and I'm treating you like a child" but taking one of their frickin' shoes says... er, what, exactly? Sep 4, 2014 at 22:49

I don't think the students are stealing as much as forgetting to give back your supplies. I'd suggest helping them remember by bringing a jar that each students puts a dollar in when the supplies are handed out. In order to get their dollar back at the end of the class, they must return whatever they borrowed.

I'd also get a label maker, and put something like "If found, return to Prof -insert name and office here-." Make sure its gaudy and hard to miss. This will both discourage actual theft (which I do NOT think most of your students are doing), and provide bread-crumbs home if its found under a pizza box after 3 weeks (the more likely scenario).

  • 2
    The second one is actually very good advise.
    – Davidmh
    Sep 5, 2014 at 7:20

Speaking from my experience as a student only.

The professors that were responsible for my courses as an engineering student varied in strictness, some were lending stuff to student who forgot to bring their own, some were very, very strict. The latter professors plainly stated that forgetting item x will make you unable to complete the laboration, and an uncompleted laboration meant failing the course until the next opportunity to do the laboration.

Guess what, almost no student forgot to bring item x. Not only is this the right way because you won't have to bring item x, it also prepares student for the real world, were there won't be a professor doing your work, where stupid calculationg´errors because of negligence are as bad as not understanding the problem at all, etc. This principle should be applied across the board imo.


The issue is that you give out equipment to your students, but they have little incentive to bring it back.

As said above, you can create an incentive by making their grade dependent on whether they return them. The drawback is that you will have to keep careful track of equipment given out.

You can minimize the bookkeeping somewhat by lending not on an ad hoc basis every class day, but only once at the beginning of the semester, and ask them to bring the items during or after the final. You can also print out little paper labels, and for every item lent to a student, write on the paper the item and name of the student. Keep the paper until item is returned. You can even make the students prepare these papers.

You could "lease" the items to the students - sell them at cost, and offer to buy back when they are done. That way, you are fully insured against lost items. However, because of the money exchange involved, I suspect school administration will take issue.

You can also use your attendance sheet: Require everyone to come to your desk and sign the sheet before leaving the class. Refuse to sign their row unless they produce all borrowed equipment, and consider them absent for that class if the items are not produced. The drawback is that end of class will become chaotic and take several minutes.

In my opinion, the best option is to not lend items at all. Simply tell the class that they will not be allowed to attend the class that day unless they bring the equipment. Emphasize that you intend to stringently enforce this rule. Everyone will always show up with the equipment.

  • Yes, it will cause chaos at the end of the class. The first few times. After that, the students know what to expect and will bring the borrowed equipment back to you with a minimum of fuss.
    – Jennifer
    May 10, 2019 at 16:42

Make yourself a note to say something to your class, 10 minutes before the end of your part in it (lecture, etc). "Remember, I have brought these XXX's for your use in case you needed them, I really need them returned by the end of class."

Modify as needed (i.e. turn 'end of class' into 'now' if needed)


That is a tricky situation. The overhead that would come from noting every student what he took and whether it was returned is annoying and unnecessary. I think the easiest way to handle this would be to point out to classes beforehand that stealing equipment is inappropriate (obviously) and that you would take measures to discourage such behavior. Those measures might include that the class, from which someone stole something, would be required from then on to supply its own equipment, i.e. would be banned from using yours. If students don't have the appropriate equipment ready, they can't participate in the exercises or get their grade diminished.

The point is to relocate the burden to the collective, instead of carrying it yourself. Of course, in the end you will probably still have to pay for the missing equipment, since it is too small to pursue justice to great lengths, but I hope you'll get at least some small satisfaction.


I know many professors who lend things to the students such as books, their thesis hard copies, compact disks, etc; and they have a very simple way to track all the students who have borrowed things from them.

Prepare one or two A4 size papers, write "Borrowers List" on top of it and every time you lend something to a student; ask him/her to write his name, the date he/she has borrowed it from you, the date he/she will give it back to you, his email and phone number and his signature.

After the student has returned the borrowed thing to the professor, the student and professor, both, can sign under this paper that the borrower has returned it.

This will have many benefits to the lender and the borrower, both.

  1. The borrower will remember that he has signed his name when he has got something from the lender; so he will try to give back that thing to the owner as soon as possible to avoid any difficulties in future.

  2. When the professor asks for a signature from the student, he shows that he cares for his owning and it is important for him that the things he has borrowed should be brought back to the owner. Consequently, the student will do all his/her best to return that thing to the owner.

  3. The professor will have a list of his owning which are lent to the students, so he will never forget what is borrowed to whom. If the borrower does not return the thing, the professor can simply send him/her an email or text message to ask the student to return the thing he has borrowed.

  • 2
    For a book, sure. But for something worth a dollar or so? Sep 4, 2014 at 22:53

Use accountability. Create a form with 2 identical halves, listing the name of the borrower and what they borrowed. When borrowing the item, they get half of the form, and you get half of the form. When returning the item, they give you their half of the form back with it, and you destroy both copies. Anyone who walks out without returning the item, place your half for safe keeping. If they need to borrow again and you have something with their name on it, deny them. There is an option to hold them financially liable, but IANAL. Make the policy clear in the syllabus.

This is an Army solution to a much more serious equipment accountability issue than classroom supplies, but it works.

  • 3
    Duplicate forms for something worth a dollar? Sep 4, 2014 at 22:52
  • It doesn't have to be duplicate. The student doesn't need a copy of the form, they can be told that it's their responsibility to remember what they borrowed.
    – Superbest
    Sep 5, 2014 at 4:58

Do present/absent check at the end of your class session.

When you lend something to your student, put a sign in front of his/her name in your student's names list. At the end of the class, when you read the student's names to see who is present and who is absent, when you see that s/he has a sign in front of his/her name; ask him/her to give that equipment back to you.

If he does not return your equipment, do not accept his presence; until he returns it to you.

Allocate a significant amount of your final assessment to the students presence and absence in your classes and this will require them to not only appear constantly in class sessions, but also be required to give your owning back to you.

Your key is their exam papers/assignments!

On top of your exam/assignment papers, write the things that the student is borrowing from you. For instance, somewhere under his name or student ID. Even you can prepare a white block in which you can write the borrowed: title and in front of it, you can always list the equipment you lend to your student.

At the end of the exam/class session, when s/he gives the exam papers/copies back to you; check whether s/he has borrowed something from you or not and immediately ask him/her to return the borrowed equipment.

If s/he is not returning the borrowed equipment, then you refuse to take his solved papers.


This is based on the assumption that it is accident, not deliberate theft. I think I may have one more of a certain type of USB cable than a remember buying, but if so have no idea where I got it from.

Get some luggage tags, and stick on each one a label saying something like "Property of Professor Village. If found, please return to office/building/campus."

Attach one to each item. Tie, duct tape, or glue as appropriate for that item.

Most students will remember to return the tagged items at the end of class. If not, next time they look through a backpack and notice the tag they will be reminded, and will also know how to return it.


Make them pay a dollar each time they borrow something and give them a token -- like a plastic poker chip -- with the equipment. When they come back with the something and the chip, give them their dollar back.

Around these here parts, that's how they do it with beer mugs and such. No bookkeeping required!

Make sure they know you're not offering to sell things for a dollar -- they must return it even if they're willing to not get their dollar back.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .