This week, I have mostly had neck-ache. I attribute this to the three-week placement I completed last week.
As I mentioned, I had to attend all the meetings a contract member of staff would. That meant the weekly staff meeting, departmental planning meeting, key stage meeting and daily staff briefing. In a school with 253 pupils.
Although I consider that to be too many meetings per week for such a small school, it wasn’t the arranged meetings that caused me a problem, rather the arrangement of the meeting themselves. For some unknown reason, all meetings were conducted in one of the classrooms, rather than in the staffroom. This brought with it all the attendant problems of adults being expected to occupy spaces designed for small children.
One of the teachers is 6’2″, he preferred to sit on the floor, rather than try to fold himself onto one of the Year 3-sized chairs. Naturally, this made it rather awkward for him to make any notes, as he then attempted to contort himself into a position where he could comfortably write on the floor. Even teachers who were rather more vertically challenged than this ended up sitting sideways in relation to the tables as they were unable to fit their knees underneath.
After half an hour of this in one meeting, I made the excuse that I needed to go to the loo, and beat a hasty retreat out of the classroom. I wandered around until I found a quiet corner where I hastily did as many stretching exercises as could reasonably be accomplished in two minutes. Some years ago, I had lower back problems, and was warned of the dangers of sitting inappropriately for extended periods of time. My chiropractor would be horrified if he had seen the furniture we were sitting on! I knew that if I sat like that for too long I would get ‘fixed’, and well, frankly, if I’m going to be in pain and stuck somewhere, I’d rather it was at home on my sofa, as opposed to at school on a junior class chair.
I noticed after that, that a few members of staff regularly went out for a couple of minutes too. Either the school routinely employs teachers with bladder problems, or they’re making excuses in order to stretch out. That strikes me as being a problem. The vast majority of the meetings did not require anything that was available only in the classroom (such as the whiteboard), in fact, only one of the 24 meetings did. There was no good reason to hold the meetings there, all those present would have easily fitted into the staffroom, which would have been far more comfortable for everyone, particularly the older members of staff.
I know that as a teacher you have to sit in ways which would be unheard of in an office. In fact, offices have to ensure that they provide appropriate furniture, but then again, there aren’t many children working in offices, so it’s unlikely anyone would install small furniture as a matter of course. Equally, the furniture in a school has to be an appropriate size for the children – they cannot be expected to cope with adult-sized furniture.
So I’m not surprised that when I attend a staff meeting based in a classroom, I’ll find myself sitting in ways that I find uncomfortable. I know I may have sore knees or an aching back after an hour or more sitting on something designed for someone a fraction of my height.
What I did not anticipate, however, was neck-ache.
The meetings were arranged so that whoever was speaking was in front of the whiteboard. The teachers were distributed around the room, sitting in the pupils’ places. Throughout the meetings therefore, each teacher had the same experience in terms of sight-lines to the whiteboard, as that of the Year 3 pupils.
As I looked around the room, it became clear why I was suffering from neck-ache. And it also became apparent, watching the squirming of the other members of staff, that I was not alone.
Not one person was sitting face-on to the board.
I had a sore neck from twisting round during 24 meetings in three weeks. How on earth do children cope when they do this for every lesson, every day?
In fact, I then made a point of looking at the set-up in every classroom in the school. They all followed the same principle – group the children in tables of four and make sure that they all have to turn their necks 45 degrees to see the board or the teacher.
Thinking back to when I was in school, I can remember an arrangement very similar to this. I also remember that I spent a lot of time copying from the child next to me as I got fed up looking at the board sideways. Sometimes I copied the wrong thing, but at least I didn’t have to keep getting up and walking over to see the board as the person I sat next to did. I also didn’t keep getting told off for sitting sideways on my chair as one classmate did, nor did I end up leaning across the table on my elbow to see past another child’s head as my friend did.
At the time I didn’t really give it much thought, and I believe that if I asked all the children in my last assignment school the same question, the majority would say they don’t really notice it – it’s how things have always been. But what are we actually doing for those pupils?
Are we putting them at risk of neck-ache due to our seating arrangement?
Are we putting them at risk of losing interest in what is on the board?
Are we prioritising an arrangement whereby group-work can be more easily accomplished?
Maybe that’s the problem. My annoyance, irritation and aching muscles stem from my dislike of the constant mantra of group work and independent learning.
I may be in the minority, but I know I’m not alone. I’ve heard teachers moaning about the table arrangement due to not all children being able to see the board, some not concentrating and others using the opportunity to mess about. But I’ve never heard one complain based on the idea that it may be uncomfortable. Ah, maybe I am on my own in thinking this, after all. But if I’m not…
Are we going to do anything about it?