A Farewell to Chalk
As a young student, I was not very fond of chalkboards, probably because they often figured prominently in various punishments (cleaning them or writing something 100 times on them both come to mind). In college I grew indifferent to them, but when I first started teaching I disliked them. Too much dust, too much squeak.
Then I encountered dry erase markers and white boards. At first, they seemed kind of cool: bright colors, no dust, and no squeak. My positive view lasted about as long as my first dry erase marker (that is, not long).
One reason for my lack of love for dry erase is purely practical: the markers cost way more than chalk. But, one might wonder, why should I care? Doesn’t the school provide supplies? Well, I did get a box of expo markers once, a few years ago. Since then I have had to buy my own. Chalk is wicked cheap, so my wicked cheap side likes chalk.
Another reason for my lack of love is that the dry erase markers are plastic and run out quick. That means that at the end of the semester I’ve used up a lot of plastic. Sure, they might recycle it (or not), but chalk just turns to dust as you use it. I suspect that creating chalk also has less environmental impact. Or perhaps they have to kill an endangered chalk owl to make each box. I never asked because I suspect that might be true.
Chalk also has in its favor that you can tell how much chalk is left in a piece by looking at it. With a dry erase marker, I find out that it is dead when I try to write, then start digging through my backpack trying to find a live one. Never had that problem with chalk.
Another handy thing is that when another professor was out of chalk, I could easily break my piece in half, thus sharing the chalk. While I can break a dry erase marker in half, that generally does not work out quite so well.
Sadly (or maybe not) I’ve accepted that my chalk days are over. All the classrooms where I teach now have dry erase boards (probably to condition the students for corporate culture by getting them accustomed to people putting ridiculous things up on a white board). I admit that I have been carrying a few pieces of chalk, on the off chance I would someday see a blackboard again. But, I accepted the end today and put my chalk away.
Of course, I didn’t throw it away. Maybe someday we’ll learn that dry erase markers cause thyroid inversion or spontaneous goat pox and the chalk board will be back. On that day I will be ready, regardless of how poxed my goats are.