Remembering the winter of my chair content

IN my childhood I did not notice what teachers sat on. I was unaware of chair discrimination. No one spoke of it in my presence; the local papers said nothing against it. My mother was a teacher, but, brought up in a different era, she never questioned it. When I began teaching in a junior high school, I accepted the plain, straight-back wooden chair at the desk in my classroom as my lot in life. I regretted its tendency to snag my nylons, but, in a cheerful spirit of resignation, covered the chair's splinters with masking tape and taught English and history from it every day.

Then I began to see how the other half sits. Our school had one full-time and one half-time counselor. Each had an upholstered chair on wheels that swiveled, tilted, and moved easily. These women dealt with one child at a time in cushioned comfort. I had six classes of 35 students each, a hard wooden chair - and a smaller salary.

In school offices, I saw that not only did administrators enjoy upholstered, swiveling mobility - but so did the secretaries and clerk-typists. I became chair aware. And I began to covet their chairs shamelessly.

When it was announced in December that our half-time counselor was leaving to have a baby, I confess that I thought not of her child - but her chair.

We were told she would not return nor be replaced. Immediately I made discreet inquiries about her chair. ``What,'' I asked the school custodian as he swept my room after school, ``will become of Mrs. Clark's office?''

``Nothing,'' he said. ``It's just closed up.''

``What about her chair?'' I asked.

``It's just sittin' there,'' he said. ``No one's usin' it.'' Then, glancing at my chair, he said, ``If you'd like to use it, I'll be glad to bring it in. No sense in it goin' to waste.'' No sense, indeed.

The chair arrived the next morning. Now I, a teacher, was on equal seating with office workers everywhere. Teachers who saw my chair envied me - and berated themselves for not beating me to it.

The rest of the academic year rolled by comfortably until September. At our first faculty meeting, the principal said, ``You will be pleased to know we have hired a new half-time counselor.''

I was not pleased to know any such thing. I went to my classroom, sat in my upholstered swivel chair with plastic arms, and considered a moral dilemma. Perhaps I should introduce myself to the new counselor: ``Hello, I'm Anne McCarroll. Your chair is in my classroom.''

On the other hand, I told myself, there were the taxpayers to consider; they expect maximum utilization of available resources. The counselor was a half-time employee, therefore the chair would be used 50 percent less in her office than in my room. I said nothing. There was, after all, a sturdy wooden chair at her desk.

September and October passed - comfortably. Then one dark November morning, the custodian said, ``That new counselor's lookin' for a swivel chair. She seen the other counselor's got one and she wants one, too.''

I knew the feeling. The chair rolled out of my life forever that cold November day. Surely, in time, I thought, teachers will come into their own - chairwise. Perhaps a kindly PTA president will sponsor a chair-raising bake sale. Some innovative superintendent may speak out on seating inequality, endearing himself to teachers across the land.

But that winter of my chair content was 15 years ago. Teachers salaries have improved. Their chairs have not. Show me a teacher with a respectable chair to sit on - and I'll show you a teacher who has bought a chair.

Last summer in California, I met a vacationing high school English teacher from Delaware. He was leaving teaching to work in publishing and expressed some regret, ``I'll sure miss the kids.'' Then he grinned and said, ``You won't believe this, but you know one of the things I'm really looking forward to? Having a decent chair to sit on.''

Anne McCarroll is a free-lance writer and former English teacher.

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