One Monday morning, teachers at 100 public schools in Magnesia, Texas, walked into their classrooms to see no desks there. Some of them, thinking that they had lost their jobs, went to the principal’s office for an explanation. There they saw a consultant in a business suit, who informed them that they still had their jobs but would not be allowed to sit down any more. All teachers were directed to watch an informational video—standing up, of course—before the ringing of the first bell.
“We are here to serve the kids,” said schools chancellor Lewis Mensonge, who stars as himself in the video. “Sitting down does not serve the kids. It sends them the message that your own comfort comes first.”
“Desks are relics of the traditional model,” added his deputy Christine Lawaai, “which served only a small percentage of the kids. We live in an era of active engagement for every child. This means that teachers should be up on their feet and moving around, without exception.” The video showed a teacher striding swiftly around a classroom and peering over students’ shoulders as they wrote. “If this teacher sits down at any point,” she said, “at any point, then some child is being failed. Some child’s needs are not being met. And so we must enforce the rules with all available means.”
Video cameras would be installed in classrooms, and all classroom doors were to be kept open at all times. If a student caught a teacher sitting down, he or she was encouraged to take a picture with his or her cellphone—which the student could use in school for this purpose only. “We urge children to be proactive,” said Lawaai. “Their own education is at stake.” Children who took photos of a seated teacher would receive a laptop and other rewards.
The video then showed a meeting where Mensonge was presenting the new policy to a group of principals. “When are teachers supposed to grade work or plan lessons?” asked one visibly distressed principal.
“Look,” said Mensonge, “do you see me sitting back and reading policy papers, or writing up a speech? I bust my [bleep] every day, if you’ll forgive my language. I’m traveling around from school to school and from meeting to meeting, getting work done. The stuff you have to do sitting down is for the evenings and weekends, not for the school day, when there’s no time to lose. And quite frankly, if teachers aren’t prepared to give every one of their evenings and weekends to these essential tasks, then they shouldn’t be teaching. There are a million other outlets for their lackadaisical lifestyle. We won’t be footing the bill.”
“How will they have any energy left in the evenings, if they haven’t sat down all day?” asked another principal.
“You are clinging to old language and thinking,” Mensonge replied. “We are looking at a paradigm shift here. We need to start using our power words. If the teacher collapses from exhaustion, then she wasn’t fit to be a teacher in the first place. It’s painful at first to be tough,” he said with softened tone, “but once you do it, you see the real changes happening. You bring in a cadre of teachers who don’t tire. You see kids learning who never learned before. You wish you had done all of this from the start. That’s when the real pain comes.”
The first bell rang. Teachers proceeded to their classes and watched the children file in and take their seats. One teacher leaned against the whiteboard as she took attendance. A cell phone flashed; within minutes, security guards had arrived to escort her out.
In a phone interview, Mensonge said that teachers would soon be required to wait on students during lunch. “It’ll motivate the kids to succeed,” he said. “They’ll think to themselves, ‘I can do better than that. I can be better than that.’ And that’s what we want them to think.”