Thursday, September 06, 2007

On Chalk

Chalk has become the much maligned stepchild of the teaching world. Outshone first by white boards, then overhead projectors and now Smartboards, the use of chalk in schools is decreasing with alarming rapidity.

When I first became an Assistant Principal in 1999, our stockman informed me that we had plenty of chalk and I would not have to order for quite a while. I figured that he meant that my predecessor had spent out a surplus one year and that we had a year or two worth of chalk stashed away. In the Spring, I asked again and was once again assured that we had plenty of chalk.

A case of chalk

Fast forward to 2007. I had to know. I asked for the whole, dusty, story. Apparently, when our stockman took his job, 26 years ago, the chalk was already there. Some long ago APO (my position) had likely invested the last of the closing school's budget in chalk. Maybe it was meant as a joke for the incoming school or, maybe it was meant as a present. Whatever the reason, they bought a whole lot of it.
A box of chalk -- 144 pieces are inside in 12 smaller boxes

Yesterday I asked our stockman to count the number of cases remaining in his "chalkroom." There are 12 cases and we go through about 2-3 cases a year. That means, yes, I did the math, that at current usage rates we have 4-6 years worth of chalk. I have not purchased white chalk for the school -- ever (I've purchased plenty of colored chalk). Given the decreasing rate of usage, I may never buy chalk. When I do, apparently I will have to do some chalk previews first, because I am told that modern chalk is inferior to our 26 year old chalk. On the rare occasions that some new chalk has come into the building (occasionally another AP does not believe that we have plenty of chalk) the newer stuff is found to be a poor cousin to the old "dustless" chalk.

Chalk, and chalkboards -- be the black, green or brown -- are a wonderful way to communicate ideas. You can scrawl a diagram on a board, add to it, subtract from it (with the assistance of an eraser) and bring to life an abstract idea. For notes that are going up on the board, period after period, I admit that an overhead or computer is the way to go but for diagrams, chalk can't be beat. Add the colored stuff and I'm in heaven! Yes, I taught biology and loved my diagrams. I had overheads with layers that worked wonders but nothing beats seeing the strokes a teacher is using in order for a student to reliably recreate the diagram in their own note book. Why not use a hand out? Because the physical action of drawing the diagram helps the student retain it in their memory. Yes, I really believe this. It is how I learn so there are others out there who learn the same way. A static drawing is just not the same. Yes, some kids are not artists -- hey, neither am I. I was always happy to furnish a copy for them but no one ever took me up on the offer.

I understand the demise of chalk and I will miss it when it is gone. Like rexographs, mimeographs and thermofaxes, chalk in a classroom will eventually be obsolete, replaced by all sorts of technological doodads. And when they break ... how will we cope?

Delaney Card
Delaney BookDelaney book pages


Dee said...

I believe I got where I am in life today by sniffing the mimeo!

Ahhhhh...the sweet smells of education. Well, mimeo and black magic marker and oh yeah ---- white paste.

Susan said...

Ohhhh love that chalk. And yes, I learn easier if I write or draw something. Actually at times I've been able to remember patient names by 'seeing' the notes I wrote on them.
When I was in 1st through 4th grades I attended a small rural school that had two grades to a room. My 1st-2nd grade teacher rewarded the classes by allowing them drawing time on the blackboard if they'd done their work quietly while she worked with the other group. And on Friday, you could use the colored chalk that lived in her personal cigar box! *G* How naive we were..and maybe grew up to be cheap dates!

Lola said...

So this is what Delaney cards are . . . I wonder what do people do if they have long first names and they tend to write big.

And mimeos - I remember the way these smelled. I liked it. Pity we don't use these anymore - prolly not save for the environment.

Mary said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane--Delaney cards and chalk!

When I worked in a high school and didn't use the same room all day, one never knew what would go missing from a classroom during the day. So I made sure I toted around my own chalk and eraser.

The eraser was such a precious commodity that, when I accepted a job that was out of the classroom, I held a lottery in my department as to who would inherit it!

Penny said...

oh awesome. mimeo was extinct by the time i hit school but mum had some from her teaching days and i loved them so much more than the copies ...

good chalk is hard to find. i love chalk though. i communicate ideas much easier with it than with whiteboards or other things...

Dave Daniels said...

Ah, I remember sitting in the front row, and the teacher handing me a stack of fresh-from-the-mimeo paper. Everyone across the first row would sniff deeply the fragrance of the blue evaporating liquid, and then hand the stack back, to those poor kids whose first name was lower in the alphabet. (To Jeff, Randy, Steven and then Tommy.) Of course, those kids took their wrath out on us by throwing the chalky erasers at us when the teacher was out of the room.
Ok, heading off to eBay to see what the going rate for antique chalk is going for...

Cookie said...

Life was better when we all have mimeo papers to sniff.