“Good Sitting”

“ ‘Four on the floor’, please,” I ask one of the students, meaning sit with all four chair legs down on the floor, rather than balancing on the back two. Then by way of explanation I add, “I’ve seen what those poor chairs have been through, and wouldn’t want you to get hurt if it breaks.”

And that’s the truth. I’m not hung up on “good sitting”, and I really don’t want to see a student who weighs over 200 pounds/90 kilos to be leaning back on the rear two legs of a cheap school chair. (Or for that matter, sitting on a desk that’s been screwed back together an uncounted number of times due to being pitched by a student having a tantrum.)

One reason why I’m not terribly concerned with sitting properly is the fact that like myself, a good number of our students have AD/HD and sitting still and neatly is simply impossible. Sitting bolt upright is really only necessary if you’re playing a musical instrument. Furthermore, when I was young, I really hated hearing orders to “sit right” or “sit appropriately”, as given by my family or by my teachers. (Thankfully we weren’t a church-going family, as I can guarantee that sitting still during a service would have been damn near impossible.)

Most of us know that sitting appropriately means both feet on the floor and “good posture”. Granted, good posture is important to maximize aerobic capacity when playing music, and to reduce mechanical (physiological) stresses when typing/keyboarding for long periods of time. However, enforcing “good posture” to have a classroom of children all lined up like robots or like soldiers on parade is nothing more than an exercise in creating and enforcing conformity and sheep-like docility.

But perhaps you’re not an irrepressibly squirmy sort yourself, so you might ask, How do you “sit inappropriately” anyway? If you’re sitting, what’s the problem?

Let’s see…

  • you sit on your desk and put your feet on your chair seat, or worse, on the chair back with the chair balanced on its back feet and the chair seat against your calves;
  • you straddle your chair like a cowhand (facing backwards), draping your arms over the backrest;
  • you slouch way down so your buttocks are nearly hanging off the edge of the seat and your chin is resting on your chest;
  • you lay on the floor and prop your calves and feet up on the seat of the chair;
  • you sit perpendicular on a chair by draping yourself by laying your stomach across the seat, reading a book on the floor;
  • you bend one leg akimbo, and sit atop your foot that’s on the chair seat, causing you to wobble all through the lesson (or mealtime);
  • you constantly jiggle one leg while leaning on a table, thus making the table vibrate (this earns you many disparaging remarks when it results in rattling crockery at dinner time);
  • commanded to “Sit still already!” because of the constant fidgeting, you wind a foot around a chair leg and lean on top of your desk, leaving hardly any room for the arithmetic worksheet (and thus get eraser crumbs and pencil smudges on your shirt);
  • you shift nearly constantly in a hard chair, trying to hold yourself aloft by pressing palms-down on the seat, because some fool decided to dress you in “rumba panties” (little girl’s underwear with rows of lace across the butt), and the horrifying corrugated itchiness makes it impossible to get comfortable;
  • owing to the fact that your shoelaces have come untied again (shoelaces are “the work of the devil”!) and by treating the combination of school desk and seat like a Roman couch, you are stretched out on your side with one leg stuck out into the aisle between the school desks, and your toes swivel back and forth in the heel end of your shoe;
  • you lack the anchor of a back-rest while sitting on the stool in art class, and so end up rocking side to side and quietly humming and staring at the pile of paper or clay while mentally flicking through a panorama of 3D images as you plan out your project.

Outside of the classroom:

  • you sit perpendicular on a rocking chair, legs draped over one of the arms, rocking the chair by grabbing the shelf of a nearby bookcase with the toes of one foot;
  • you pretzel up on the end of the sofa, one knee bent to your chest and the other foot once again jiggling – sometimes that foot is raised with the leg straight and the ankle resting on the top of the sofa back as though it were a ballet barre;
  • you slouch down in the padded theatre seating in the school auditorium or on the school bus, and prop your knees on the back of the seat in front of you;
  • you wiggle underneath a beanbag chair (to feel the pressure) while leafing through a book on a particular interest of yours;
  • you spin around-and-around-and-around on the doctor’s examination stool;
  • you stare out the window at the clouds or at a lazily-spinning ceiling fan or at a knot in the furniture veneer, or lay your head on the desk and “drive” your finger along the patterns in the laminate, or pick compulsively at the remnant of an old price tag on the back of a text book. In short, you look at anything but the person speaking to you, because you are concentrating on what someone is saying, rather than concentrating on making eye contact.

Amazingly, for all I received a number of comments in class, none of my teachers ever commented on this on my report cards. I supposed that was because I was a quiet, otherwise generally obedient child.

Come to think of it, I still find myself sitting “inappropriately” at times. It’s less of an issue now, not because I don’t still have the impulse, but rather because I’ve found other ways of venting energy, or getting more proprioceptive input, or simply creating more opportunities for getting up from my seat on a frequent basis.

Back in my current classroom, the student mumbles at me, a mere formality of acknowledgement or perhaps token resistance, as he lets the chair drop to a more stable position. “Thank you,” I reply. (No way would I ever commend someone with “Good sitting!” as though they were a dog.) I have no personal need for my students to “sit right” – my concern is that they are able to interact with their peers and the staff appropriately, and to be able to achieve their personal educational objectives. I recognize that some of them will end up doing so orbiting their desks (or other work surfaces) in a number of postures. And that’s okay by me.

(Addendum: we might note that during the writing of this I sat in my rocker in a number of postures, including both legs folded on the seat with one knee up by my shoulder. More conventional postures are engaged in only when one of our four cats requests a lap to sit upon.)