Humor. How else do you handle a room full of 32 fourth graders? All jammed together, desks end to end with no space for a cozy reading corner, we managed. Safety is always on a teacher’s mind. This includes how students ought to use their chairs.
It’s quite natural at times for us to lean back in our chairs. The wooden chairs in my college dorm had back legs that were purposely angled for just such occasions. I liked those chairs. Plastic and metal student chairs in elementary schools don’t hold up well under such relaxation, however.
Custodians will give you the stink eye if they have to come remove yet another chair that’s had a screw pop through the plastic seat. I wasn’t thinking of that so much as the demonstration my friend, a nurse, had given a previous class. She wanted to show the students how much like a honeydew melon their heads were – prone to splitting open. From about seven feet up, one honeydew was dropped wearing a helmet, another without. The helmetless honeydew sustained a long, deep crack. (I’m convinced every one of those students uses a bicycle helmet to this day because of that demonstration.)
So, when Charlie* leaned back in his chair each day, I’d say my usual, “Four on the floor, please.” Other students tended to lean back in their chairs, too. “The reason I need you to keep your chair on the floor is for your safety. Do I need to tell you how your head is like a honeydew?” I teased. The class of 32 needed daily reminders. “I understand the urge to lean back. Sometimes I want to lean back in a chair, too. But please don’t.” I smiled.
I kept the daily reminder fresh by changing it up a bit. “No leaning back in your chair unless you have a helmet on!” Followed by, “No helmet? No leaning!” Of course, I’m exaggerating the problem a little. But maybe not. . .
One day, Charlie showed up wearing his hockey helmet, grinning mischievously. “You said, ‘No helmet? No leaning!’, so I brought my helmet, ” he explained. The whole class and I joined in laughing and good-natured teasing. What could I do? Charlie happily teetered back and forth in his chair all day.