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[personal profile] fourzoas

It was 3:55 p.m. on a balmy Friday afternoon at the close of the Spring term. I scooted into the campus bookstore right before closing time, my sights set on procuring the one thing that I'd been fixated on since the end of my morning class. I shimmied my pregnant body through the too-close racks of sweatshirts and t-shirts and those obnoxious quilt-fabric purses with matching accessories as I headed toward my destination: the unassuming back corner where the actual instruments of learning--paper, pens, pencils, protractors--resided. I quickly scanned the shelves, willing myself to resist the siren song of the multi-colored razor point pens, the earthy scents of the hardwood number 2 pencils, and the neatly stacked spiral-bound notebooks. I wanted one thing and one thing alone: a box of a dozen sticks of white chalk.

My campus is small, and the majority of the classrooms sport gorgeous long expanses of black or brown chalkboards, their velvet textures the perfect receptacle for the musical tick tick tick of a freshly-plucked stick. I love filling the boards with my teaching scribbles, a curious mixture of lists and assignments and arrows and even the occasional geometric figure or stick person. These are the kinds of boards that defy the chalk to squeak across their surfaces, and when I put the chalk to them, I feel the symbiosis of body and board, the white marks an ephemeral recording of our union.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm no technophobe. I teach a course about our lives online. I frequently use the internet as a class textbook. I'm aware that there's always an app for that. It's just that all too often the best teaching tool in my arsenal is that unassuming bit of hardened dust.

When I walked into the bookstore, I didn't expect the chalk to have received pride of place with the other writing instruments. In fact, I expected to find it on the lowest shelf, neglected but waiting, a thin layer of bookstore detritus clinging to its surface. It's the tool of the teacher (or the really industrious student who fills the boards with new ideas during their off-duty hours), and, as such, not of notice to the student shopper. My eyes flitted up and down, left and right, certain they'd see the familiar green and yellow package or identify some other off-brand.

My eyes saw nothing. There was no chalk.

I checked again, certain that this store, a college bookstore on a campus filled with beautiful brown and black boards, had to stock this most vital of tools. I scanned the U-shape of the back corner shelving. Rainbow pens. Golden pencils. Notebooks in the school colors, the college's name stamped in silver or gold. Drafting paper. Science lab notebooks. Big pink erasers. No chalk.

I asked the salesclerk, who now at 2 minutes past closing time was ready to turn the key in the already closed door, and she confirmed what I already suspected; the franchise didn't stock it, chalk no longer being enough of a profitable item to keep on the shelves. I navigated the racks again, this time making note of how much floor space they took up relative to the actual shelves of textbooks (all cordoned off to be shipped back to the publishers) and the other instruments I considered necessities of learning. The store made it so much easier to put on the outward appearance of the student than fill the soul of one.

So began my quest. The summer was hot and I was very pregnant and I was determined to find chalk. I tried the big chain office supply and discount stores where I found large buckets of brightly colored chalks for games of hopscotch but none of the smaller, more practical sticks. I became increasingly annoyed with the supremacy of the whiteboards, those smooth, slick, and sleek replacements who welcomed the touch of smelly and colorful markers and required spray bottles of special cleansers to make them pristine again. My chalkboards were fresh with a wash of plain water.

I finally found what I was seeking at a traditional teacher supply store, the kind filled with brightly colored bulletin board materials, old school wooden puzzles, and lesson planning books. I bought two boxes and, because I was so very excited to have completed my quest, I picked up one of those metal chalk holders too. The sales clerk must have thought me insane, a grown and growing woman giddy over a $5 purchase of the most pedestrian of items, but I didn't care. On the first day of classes I slid a fresh stick of chalk into the fire-red holder and tucked it into my briefcase. I walked into the room and smiled at the pristine black boards covering two entire walls in the classroom. I grabbed my little red helper, clicked the button to advance the chalk, and wrote my name on the board. The school year had officially begun.

Written in response to the Topic 2 prompt at [livejournal.com profile] therealljidol: Uphill, both ways, barefoot.

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