The Swivel Chair




The swivel chair. Why I have not written extensively  about this? It deserves its own book. Seriously. Like, it could be a coffee table book (STOP! That's my idea. Put it down. Now, step back. Put your hands on your head so I can see them. You don't mess with the Salt Lord).

The swivel chair is the rose and thorn of being a teacher, at least in my building. After renovation, each teacher got a set of swivel chairs, upholstered in an ugly, bloodstained burgundy. One sits at the desk. It doesn't rise too high, just enough to hover over the keyboard and lean against the desk while grading papers.

The other one is like the stool of the classroom. It can, using the great lever technologies of old, go higher than the desk. It is the chair the teacher sits in to look over the tops of his students' heads. It's the chair that I do read-alouds in, so every student can see me. It's the chair that all the students fight over. It's the one that goes missing if I haven't sat in it for more than 10 minutes.

I turn my head and realize it's gone missing. Then, I look over and see that one of my students has taken it. Her feet don't even touch the floor. Instead, they dangle. This must be the sensation they long for. For a few short minutes, they get to feel like little children again.

"What are you doing with my chair?"

"You weren't sitting in it..." she'll say demurely.

If there is down time at the end of the period, my students will pull out their samurai swords and fight to the death. Whoever wins gets to sit in the chair.

I hear, "Hi-ya!" and a ninja-kick spirals a student to the back of the room. I see the swing of nunchucks and hear a nasty scream.

"We made candles in art!" and then "Take that!" and "You will never win!"

I am forever breaking up those fights. It really does take more to be a teacher than simply knowing your content area. You have to be prepared for the sneakiness of middle school students. You have to be a warrior, otherwise they will take your swivel chair and make a mockery of your classroom.

"I am now the ruler of this classroom!" a student will call out, standing atop the swivel chair, having ratcheted it up to the ceiling. "I dare you to unseat me!"


And a throng of students hurtles toward the new ruler of the classroom, upending him and tossing him aside like limp lettuce.

It really is amazing that we get any work done at all. I used to have two other swivel chairs in the classroom. I would push them against the wall, and then place a small table in the way. They were blocked. This visual meant, "do not sit in these chairs." I only wanted to use them when we shot video for news broadcasts. That didn't stop the Swivel Soldiers. Every period, when the bell rang, dismissing class, the gray upholstered swivel chairs rested at random spots in the room, away from the wall they should've been against.

"How did we get here?" one would ask.

"I remember being against the wall," the other would say, "and then the rest of it is all a blur."

Needless to say, I got rid of those two chairs. I had won the battle, but not the war. To win the war, I must get rid of all the swivel chairs.

Until then, I will continue to combat against my students, as they ask:

"Why can't we sit in that chair?"

"When you get your teaching license and put up with the likes of middle school students," I say to them. "You will then earn your right to sit in the swivel chair."