Chalk Throwing

Three teachers that shaped me used the not-socially-acceptable technique of throwing chalk at the students.

One teacher threw a piece of chalk at me for passing notes during class. He threw it, and then he called me a “stupid Pollak”, an ethnic slur for someone of Polish ancestry — which I wasn’t — and a mispronunciation of my last name. I was angry. I vowed never to take another class in that subject again. And I didn’t — until college. Trigonometry was the last math class I took in high school.

Another teacher threw chalk, erasers, whatever was handy — and called students “Harry Lipschitz”. Maybe because I was never the target of his missiles, or maybe because I liked the subject matter more, I worked really hard for that teacher and have a lifelong love of music, largely because of his influence. Not every former student shares my opinion though.

The third teacher smacked yardsticks against the chalkboard and broke them on a regular basis — the yardsticks, not the chalkboards. He threw also chalk. And erasers. He had a large wooden machete that he would rest on a student’s shoulder and gently tap the “blade” against his or her neck, all the while asking him or her to solve a problem or answer a question. We loved this teacher. We paid attention. We laughed. We learned.

Sometimes, I think, we try to over-simplify problems or solutions.

I had a teacher that threw chalk at me and he made me want to quit learning, therefore all teachers should be forbidden from throwing chalk.

But I also had a teacher who threw chalk who made me love learning, therefore all teachers should be required to throw chalk.

Or, I had a teacher that threw chalk, and some students really liked him, while others did not, therefore chalk-throwing should be discretionary.

But why is it that one teacher can throw a piece of chalk and we laugh, and another teacher can throw chalk and we want to quit? The answer lies not in the throwing of the piece of chalk.

I don’t even know where I’m going with this. I just know that nothing is simple.

I mean, is social media bad, or is social media good?

Are guns bad, or are they good?

Are drugs bad, or are they good?

Is chalk bad, or is chalk good?

Are teachers bad, or are they good?





What I do know is that when we know something for sure, we are most in danger of being wrong.

For the record, in my opinion, chalk throwing is not a great idea for teachers… yet I learned a lot from a couple of chalk-throwers.




6 thoughts on “Chalk Throwing

  1. This is a great piece because it proves a point. Nothing is ever going to be accepted by everyone. Life is about cautiously dipping one’s toes into the situation at hand and trying to do the best we can.

  2. I loved two of the very same teachers, too, Sally, even though I hated math and was mediocre in science. They caused me to want to work a little harder. I wish the math teacher was able to know what I did when I first got out of college. He’d have laughed, I think. Mr. Pep would have laughed too!

  3. I had an English teacher called Mr Bluck who used to sit cross-legged on his table playing the sitar and could pick out whoever was whispering or passing notes and flick chalk seemingly without lifting his hand from the instrument with such accuracy that it would skim the ear of the offender. It was impressive. And these days would be illegal. I am wholeheartedly with you that the most emphatic moments in life are normally the moments to back off because they are usually the moments when we are emphatically wrong.

    1. you had me at Mr Bluck playing the sitar — he didn’t even need to throw chalk and I would have found him fascinating.

      1. He was … he wore a velvet jacket (burgundy, naturally), cheesecloth shirt and wide-wide bottomed jeans. His hair was a frizzy mist the colour of old hay and I think we were all a little enchanted. Not harbouring crushes, just enchanted. And that music and that chalk trick made him rather magical … we were fortunate but I doubt we understood it at that age!

  4. I had a teacher who smacked students on the head with a text book. We used to say she could have taught cruelty lessons to the Nazis and probably did.

    On the other hand, I had a high school geography teacher who had a seal stick in his class and regularly knocked the chalkboard with it for emphasis. But everyone loved him. Great sense of humour, great teaching style.

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