...on the Importance of Seating Charts
Humans are creatures of habit. My friend and I go to the same restaurant every Thursday. We order the same food. We sit at the same table. Normal people watch the same television shows at the same time on the same nights each week. People who are successful at working out generally follow the same routines over and over again. I have a coworker who only ever vacations at Disney World. Christmas Break: Disney Vacation. Spring Break: Disney Vacation. Summer Break: Disney Vacation
We humans like comfort. Seating charts provide a measure of physical comfort in a room where students will be subjected to all manner of academic discomfort, and doubtless a fair dose of social discomfort as well. Growing up is hard. At least in a classroom with a well thought out classroom map and seating chart, your students will be able to depend upon one constant in their day, and maybe, in their life.
If you're me, and you stole a portable, moveable wall from downstairs one summer, you use it. Guess who's behind that wall: a student who needs isolation to work. Guess who's not pictured (but you can see a hood on the far left of the shot): every other student who needs to be FAR away from the student in isolation to work.
My teammate had surgery one day. Don’t worry, it was nothing serious, just routine aging. The district employed a long-term substitute who was taught in college that students flourish in a culture of freedom, where they can express themselves creatively and openly. He believed that seating charts were too confining, and would stifle his student’s creative mojo juices.
It took about three days before complete bedlam erupted. It continued for the remainder of his six week stay on my team. Good students who had never been a behavior problem nestled into a group of their friends and chatted their way through lessons. Students with less self control posted up in the far back corners and threw food, erasers, spit wads, and when asked to behave better, tantrums. An entire bookshelf ended up covered in pictures of male genitalia.
Exasperated, the long-term substitute came to a team meeting and asked how we possibly managed to have Steven and James in the same class together. They were so naughty together! Our answer was simple. Steven sits in the front left corner of the classroom. James sits in the far back right corner of the classroom. We placed three tall students, two tall filing cabinets, and we hung the American Flag between the two of them so that eye contact between them was impossible. Easy fix.
Not so easy when you don’t believe in seating charts. The substitute didn’t want to interrupt all the creative ways that Steven and James were coming up with to make his life a living purgatory, so he let them continue to sit next to each other in the back corner. Bedlam continued and got worse.
About a week later, the long term substitute came back into our team meeting and complained that Dayjia and Yvaine were just so chatty. She could not get them to take notes or pay attention! They had chosen to creatively sit at a table with their backs turned to the board, the teacher, the lesson, and their own education. How did we possibly manage having them in class together? It was an easy fix! We simply sat Dayjia in a cooperative learning group with Garrett, who she had a huge crush on. Garrett, being brilliant, only dates smart girls, so Dayjia works her butt off now. Also, Yvaine’s sister has severe autism. We had a student on our team with autism, so Yvaine sat and worked in a group with him, and offered him great assistance because she was so good at working with autistic students. Easy fix.
Not so easy when you don’t believe in seating charts. The substitute didn’t want to interrupt all the creative ways that Yvaine and Dayjia were coming up with to ignore all his lessons, so he let them continue to sit next to each other with their backs turned to the board. Bedlam continued and got worse.
After the six weeks, the substitute was brought to tears multiple times (both in front of the students during class, and in meetings with co-workers) by the ferocious way the students took advantage of him. They were just awful! On his last day, he bought five party pizzas ($168.27 -- about 17 hours of work, or three days as a substitute teacher) and had a party for the entire team of children who had literally been so rude for so long that he was reduced to tears.
He wanted to reward them for...I don’t really know...their creativity?
When students misbehave and you employ seating charts, it is very easy to make them behave. Simply move them away from the person with whom they misbehave. If they spend too much time looking out the window, move them to the seat in the windowless interior corner. If they’re constantly making loud metallic tapping noises on the metal bookshelf, move them to a desk away from the bookshelf. If they’re a general pain in the butt, move them to a generally less desirable position in the classroom. If they’re generally a helpful hard worker, move them to a generally more desirable location in the classroom. This is an easy, silent way to make your classroom run smoothly. Kids pick up on it really fast. Good kids get comfy chairs? Bad kids get the gross gum-bottom desk? Where do you want to sit?
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So much of the writing published about education is published by people who don't teach. I figured it was time for a teacher to write about teaching. I've been proud to teach 8th-grade ELA in Dunkirk City Schools since 2007, and to serve at Fredonia State University as an adjunct professor, teaching educational technology since 2017.