Chair smashed – and the teacher smiles

Three-minute story

Chair smashed – and the teacher smiles

For eleven weeks, our Spanish teacher told us, for eleven weeks he would only speak to us in Spanish. We were complete beginners; how could we possibly learn Spanish like that? But it worked and later we realised how fortunate we had been.

On one occasion I was selected to demonstrate the meaning of a Spanish verb – saltar – to jump. Mr Cooper waved both arms together, upwards, towards an old-fashioned wooden chair. I stepped up, cautiously, but this was no good – there was insufficient energy involved. Next time I managed to jump onto the chair, thinking that by snatching both feet from the floor at the same time I would please this rather demanding of teachers. He shook his head. “¡ SALTA!” he bellowed and the penny dropped. This time I launched myself up as high as I could above the chair and, to make the point that I really had understood, I stamped downwards onto the chair as I landed.

There was the loud, satisfying sound of breaking furniture and two jagged pieces of chair separated themselves from one another and collapsed onto the floor in front of the class. What would happen now? This was a man who would hoist us up by our lapels and eyeball us should we forget our homework. Now, however, he had the grace to acknowledge that, for a few moments, he had yielded the initiative. He grinned and, relieved, the class broke into laughter.

Twenty years on we met again and spoke in Spanish. He asked, “How is it that you can speak Spanish so well?”

“You taught me, Sir,” was my honest answer.

Why do you think that the sound of the chair breaking up was so satisfying?

What impression do you gain of Mr Cooper?

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