A Broken Chair, A Keepsake

A couple of weeks ago, after an ordinary lesson, a student in first period came up to me at the end of class. “Mister, your chair just broke,” he said. In disbelief, I paused. Huh? What? When?

I gather myself and he casually described what happened and proceeded to hand me the flat, top portion of the chair — the seat. Then he showed me the rest:

He smiled and walked out of the room matter-of-factly as if a dismembered chair is an everyday occurrence. Teenagers kill me.

In my illustrious 16 years as a teacher, I can’t recall ever having a chair fall apart during class. This was a first. Instead of laughing it off and leaving it to the mercy of our custodian, I was pulled to hold on to the fragmented piece of classroom furniture. Something interesting could come of it, I thought.

The next day, after relishing in the uniqueness of my newfound treasure with another class, it hit me: the seat could be a memento for the year. Why not keep it? A chair is a defining physical element of any classroom, but is woefully taken for granted and unseen. After being removed from the classroom for so long, the seat could celebrate our return. It was the perfect way to memorialize our repossessing of the physical space we were forced to vacate.

In the subsequent days, I passed the seat around the room with some Sharpies and asked my students to sign it. The result was a keepsake that ensures I’ll never forget this extraordinary school year and how it restored my faith in teaching and learning.

I’m not sure if I want to hang it or simply lean it up against a wall, but it’s going to be around for a while. When I look at it, perhaps I’ll think about all the students who it supported throughout its lifetime in Room 227. Many have come and gone through the years, and this seat afforded their bodies a space to sit, think, and feel. The seat lived a purposeful, yet overlooked life.

Now, thanks to impeccable timing, it has earned itself a second life as a token of our unapologetic reinhabiting of the classroom. Before the pandemic and remote learning, we thought nothing of the everyday support it provided. After a revival year of service to many, the seat made the ultimate sacrifice and will be overlooked no more. Instead, my students and I have immortalized it and shoved it into the spotlight where it will live its remaining days as a cheerful representation of our comeback.

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