Teacher Jen’s Chair

“True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.”
― Nikos Kazantzakis

I need to tell you about Teacher Jen, but I don’t know where to start. Teacher Jen is amazing. As my son, Ian told me one day: “That woman really knows what she’s doing.” Indeed she does.

My son is in an ASD program at Sunnyside Elementary School in New Brighton, MN.  He started halfway through first grade and is now in fourth grade. His classroom is like a half sized episode of The Big Bang Theory.

I think as parents, we all hope for teachers who will see our kids the way WE see them – teachers who will see their potential, who will rejoice in their best attributes and help them where they struggle. We hope for teachers who will love our kids on their most unloveable days.

Teacher Jen is one such remarkable individual.

Ian has thrived in her classroom. He’s gone from a 6 year old who was LITERALLY hiding under the table, hissing at teachers, to a 10 year old who’s doing well academically and socially. He’s in karate and swimming and this spring will join track, activities that would have been inconceivable two years ago.

We have more than just Jen to thank, I know. It’s a great program that our district is lucky to have, with knowleadgable, dedicated people on every level. But Teacher Jen? Like I said, she’s just . . . amazing.

So one day a chair appeared in her classroom. It was very cool and very scruffy. I asked about it and Teacher Jen said she’d scavenged it from her husband. She thought it would be a good fit in the classroom,  comfortable and functional and fun. I agreed! But it was full of kid scribbles and the fabric was fairly threadbare. In the past, I’ve offered to do sewing or upholstery projects for my kids’ classrooms – there’s almost always something that could use a little TLC, and most teachers I know are giving more than they have to, to take care of their students.

“Teacher Jen,” I said, “I could reupholster that for you.”

“Oh my goodness, you don’t have to do that!”

“But Teacher Jen, I WANT to do that.”

“But it’s probably not even a very good chair”

“But Teacher Jen, you LIKE it. This is what I do. And I’d rather reupholster that chair than come volunteer in the classroom”

“I just don’t want you to feel like you have to!”

We went back and forth like this for awhile, and finally I sent a fabric book to school with a note:

“Just pick the color you want. It causes me physical pain to look at that chair and not do something about it.”

Teacher Jen laughed and marked three colors – “Really, anything blue is fine. The red is agitating to the kids.”

See? Amazing.

We picked a simple and sturdy textile from Fabric Supply in Minneapolis, a commercial fabric that would be durable and cleanable.

It would also hide sharpie scribbles 🙂 

I kidnapped the chair after school and spent a day carefully repatterning the many sewn pieces.

As commercial seating goes, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the frame and padding. I think this chair was a great candidate for reupholstery. I was careful to excessivly document the construction of the sewn cover, marking the order of assembly and key points of intersection. Whenever you do ANYTHING with this much sewing involved, you need to be practical and humble – successful upholstery is often about leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, NOT tearing everything apart and magically expecting to put it all back together. I’ve never reupholstered a piece exactly like this. That didn’t worry me: but it made me slow down and pay attention.

Thankfully, reassembly was like clockwork. With a little steam and a little elbow grease, the new cover went on beautifully. I called Teacher Jen and arranged to drop the “new” chair off.

I know it was only a chair, but I’m glad Teacher Jen let me do a little something nice for her classroom. I can’t begin to calculate the good that she has done in my child’s life, and that she continues to do. I gave her the gift of professional upholstery because that was what I had to give.
We’ve been blessed as a family to know many generous and talented teachers. It’s a job that demands SO much. If you’re a parent, I hope you’ve met your own Teacher Jen somewhere along the way. And if you have, I hope you’ve told them just how amazing and appreciated they are <3

1 thought on “Teacher Jen’s Chair”

  1. Teacher Jen you are very lucky to have Cynthia makeover this chair for you. But there is nothing better than a teacher who can bring out the best in her students. Please continue to do what you do, because the world needs teachers like you.

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