I miss chalk. I started teaching in September of 1995, with a chalkboard and a box of good, old, dusty chalk. Chalk is elegant, chalk is something you can rely on. You know the chalk will always write and you know the chalk will always be there, in the room, waiting for you by the board. Unfortunately, chalk is a thing of the past. Most schools have replaced the old slate chalkboards with cheaper, white, plastic boards that use erasable markers.
Most schools have replaced the chalkboards with whiteboards because the whiteboards are cheaper to purchase, cheaper to maintain and cheaper to hang. The word is cheap. The whiteboard markers are also cheap, but, as with highlighters, some are cheaper than others and some dry out much more quickly than others. I have never been more embarrassed than when I walk into a classroom all prepared for the lesson and I pick up the one lone marker in the room only to realize that it writes so light that even I can’t read it at the front of the room. It’s then that you have to stop your lesson and send a student to the supply secretary to get you another marker. Why should I assume that working markers should be in the classroom? I must be crazy to think that regular supplies would be there available for me.
That brings us to chalk. Chalk is always there. There is always some tiny, broken piece to find in the chalk tray under the board, or some small stick of chalk that fell to the floor and rolled under the desk. Chalk is always available in a room with a chalkboard. And, you know that the chalk will always write. There’s no drying out with chalk. The only drying out that happens is to your hands from the chalk dust. In fact, if it’s impossible to find a piece of chalk, you can take your finger and rub it in the chalk dust and use it to write on the board!
A lot of people will say that the schools removed chalk because the chalk dust was hazardous to breathe and it was causing all sorts of respiratory problems. Chalk has been used in classrooms for hundreds of years. Why is it just now that we’re hearing about all these respiratory illnesses and problems that it can cause?!? I don’t remember people getting sick when I was going through school using chalk, or when I was using chalk, myself, as the teacher. My hands were dry from the dust, but that’s why they sell chalk holders. Hell, one of my colleagues in New York used to wear a rubber glove when he wrote on the board so his hand wouldn’t become too dry. You make do because chalk is worth it. Chalk can be colorful, in a subdued, pastel sort of way. It’s not flashy and in-your-face like the markers. Also, you can always find white or yellow chalk to write with, it’s not confusing to the students like when one day you write with the blue marker, but the next day with the red because the blue one is now missing. Chalk never gives you that problem.
Chalkboards were also the focal point of the classroom. Whether they were black or green (or the very rare red one), they gave a sense of learning. They were heavy, made of slate or schist, so they lasted a long time. Special implements were made for chalkboards. Who could forget the giant chalkboard protractor and compass that your math teachers used to use. One of mine even had a pull down screen with tiny holes in it that, when you erased over it, would produce a graph on the chalkboard. My music teacher had a special tool that you inserted chalk into so he could make a staff for drawing musical notes. These things were ingenious, and I miss them.
Whiteboards have no character. They have no “panache!” Chalkboards ARE school, they are what school was all about when I was younger and a young teacher. They are sophisticated, colorful and definitely a lot more interesting than these marked up plastic things they have now. Chalkboards need to make a comeback, they’re missed and they’re needed. Whiteboards be damned!!!