I’ve only come to know one type of table and chair in the classroom whilst working in Spain. If you were to look at them, they could only be described as a table and chair two-in-one – where a writing table extends out and in a way that traps you in its seat. Sometimes the table can be moved up for ease of access, sometimes it can’t – making it unfortunately awkward for those a little bigger than others.
Unsurprisingly these chairs prove unpopular with students, but how they save on space justify their existence. Given the size of the accompanying table it’s often a struggle for teenagers and children to fit a lot in the same space, and I’ve lost count how many times pens and the odd book have fallen to the floor thanks to your average clumsy teen!
But why have I just spent the last two paragraphs talking about these chairs? Well, let me take you back to March of 2015. March is a nice time of year for those who work evenings, as that stretch in evening begins to become more evident following the long, dark winter. Here my older teenagers were getting to grips with report writing. I enjoy report writing. It can often lead to discussion and, depending on the level, debates. Our topic that day was improvements that could be made to our school, asking the opinions of others, and in turn recommending changes based on evidence gathered.
‘What could be improved here?’ I asked the class, wondering if anyone was going to suggest the teachers!
In opening arguments, the usual suspects were mentioned: timetables, homework, and exams – all obvious and unsurprising. ‘We would prefer less homework and more movies in class!’ insisted Maria. Oh yeah? I responded. And how would that benefit the class in general? She sadly didn’t have an answer prepared.
Our discussion continued for a further five minutes and was beginning to peter out. Sensing this, I hastily began preparing the next activity. In doing this, I overheard a seldom-heard voice address the class.
I would describe David as your typical Spanish student of English. Thanks to having grammar shoved down his throat by the local school system, he could complete any gap fill with relative ease and, given time, produce decent writing. Sadly, his level of speaking let him down due to shyness – hence my surprise to hear him speak without me having to address him.
‘I hate the chairs!’ he said with a tone of voice I hadn’t heard all year. ‘They’re too small, they’re uncomfortable and I can never work with the table. The table is too small and not good for me. IT’S NOT A CHAIR! IT’S NOT A TABLE! IT’S NOTHING!’
Silence followed. I could see some students trying not to laugh. Was that our David who just said that? Our quiet, reserved David? For one of those rare moments, both teacher and all his students were on the same page. We had just been treated to an oral tirade on the school’s chairs by the class’s quietest, and were stunned into silence by it.
Looking back on it, this was arguably the most David had ever spoken in one go that year, and by far the most passionate. All it took was a dodgy-looking chair with a detachable arm. Not homework. Not exams. Remarkable.