Monday, April 17, 2006

My Little Post on Chalk

I hate chalk. I am talking about blackboard chalk, that is, and the blackboards that go with them. The teachers I know who deal with it feel likewise.

I didn't mind so much when I first encountered it at the mere age of 5. These were the materials used in school after all. But neither did I miss them when institutions converted to whiteboards. For me, that happened  in the late eighties and early nineties at both high school and University. Old buildings used blackboards, but newly constructed rooms almost invariably used whiteboards. 

I had no real preference as a student, except that whiteboards appeared neater and more modern. Oh, and with the potential for more amusement. In high school, one of my student scrawled some on it as a joke before the teacher came in. Ha-ha. Then the teacher tried to rub it off. Ha-ha-double-plus: the boy had used permanent ink markers by mistake. What a learning curve it was for everyone, especially him. Guess who has to stay behind with the special solvents.

When I started teaching, whiteboards were used 100% of the time. Even the dodgier ones with the leaking air conditioning and the eccentric approach to maintenance had them. So it came as a surprise when I started teaching English at Vietnamese state schools: blackboards it was. My feeling at the time wasn't apprehension so much as puzzlement at how archaic it all seemed. It had been at least 11 years since I'd really had anything to do with them.

So what do I think of it? We hates them, we hates them. Blackboard chalk (which is really gypsum) is messier than whiteboard markers. It gets on your hands, and a little bit gets in your lungs, and if you aren't that careful, it will get on your face, and on your clothes. I'm never that careful. I'll scratch my chin, and the stuff will infest my pores. It's a great way to give yourself acne. 

(I understand the reason blackboards have been chosen - they're an investment by the school, and they're a sunk cost, and they're cheaper. Tell me that the next time I cut a spot shaving.)

The only bright side about blackboards is that they'd become a helpful aid in class discipline. Do you know how unpleasant fingernails scraping on a blackboard sound? Well, my kids know now. I don't like doing it, but now I don't have to do it that much any more. Make vaguely talon like shapes with my fingers towards the slate, and they're quickly learning to shush each other up.