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Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titantic aka Classroom Seating August 25, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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Over the summer, I’ve spent a good five minutes thinking about how I want to rearrange my classroom.  I would have spent more time, but when I walk into my classroom after summer vacation, it looks like a scene from the Titanic – after it hit the iceberg.

To refinish the hardwood floors, the custodians move all the furniture to one side of the room, then shift it back to the other, to refinish the other side. It’s a wonder the school isn’t listing.  The only thing that never moves is the monolithic black metal storage cabinet in the corner.

By the time I’ve unstacked all the chairs and tables, and dragged the double wide file cabinet back across the room where it’s supposed to go (putting fresh scuff marks on the refinished floor), my creative energy is spent.  I’m tempted to arrange everything the way it was “before.” Unfortunately, if I’ve had a relaxing vacation it’s hard to remember what “before” looked like. That’s why I take lots of pictures at Open House.  That’s as good as it gets. When I look at the pictures it all comes back to me.  Then I start dragging those bookcases.  If only the wheel had been invented when they designed all that heavy school furniture.

For the first two years, I had my students sit in two inverted F formations ideal for direct instruction.  “One, two, three – All eyes on me!”  Because some idiot bolted the overhead screen to the far right side of the whiteboard, all of the students need to be seated to one side of the room so they can see it. Grrr…

Last year I had students sit at tables.  I’d resisted tables for years as I don’t trust kids when I can’t see their faces.  That’s probably because whenever I go to professional developments and find my back to the presenter, I immediately start doodling or holding up funny signs to see if I can make the people across the table laugh.

That said, the table arrangement worked out pretty well.  I had two tables of six at the back of the room and two tables of four at the front.  I haven’t quite figured out how it’s going to work with increased class sizes this year. I await divine inspiration (and additional desks and tables).

On the first day of school I always let students sit wherever they want.  I can quickly see who shouldn’t be sitting next to who. By the second day, the seats they are a changin’.  As Chinese military strategist Sun-tzu said in 400 B.C., “You’ve got to keep your friends close and your enemies problem students closer.

Before I had my credential, I worked as a substitute, which to my mind is the best possible training for any aspiring teacher.  I remember walking into a middle school classroom and seeing a table full of boys at the back of the class. No teacher in her right mind would put all those boys together.   So I did what any cracker jack sub would do – I lied.

I announced that the teacher had left me a seating chart. (I would have settled for lesson plans!) “I’m going to turn around and count to 30. When I’m done, you better be back in your seat, or I’m going to start writing referrals,” I said.  I turned my back and began counting.  As I heard the frantic game of musical chairs underway, I couldn’t help but smile.

When I turned back around I was greeted by a sea of smiling faces.  My bag of tricks is bottomless. That’s why I’m the teacher.


1. Catherine Sherman - August 25, 2009

Another great post! I love hearing about school from a teacher’s point of view, particularly one who is so brilliant and hilarious. As a student long ago, I rarely thought about what a teacher had to put up with. Being a self-absorbed grade schooler, I only worried about my own seat! If I had a crush on someone, I wanted to be able to sit near him to pine in unrequited love. Usually, though I just wanted to be close enough to my friends to pass notes….

Cathy – I’m just happy if when I confiscate a note, everything is spelled correctly. I was always seated at one of the back tables because I was so well-behaved. Obviously, I was a late bloomer. Jan


2. Lisa - August 25, 2009

FYI- my monolithic black metal storage cabinet ended up in the opposite corner. That was fun to move…!

Lisa – That I would have like to have seen. They must have rolled it on logs. Jan


3. Janelle - August 26, 2009

I’ve helped Doug arrange his room many a fall, and I never got over the hurricane of furniture. It was like the custodians were sadists on a mission to torture the backs of teachers and their spouses! In no other profession (or none that I can immediately think of) does someone rearrange your whole office, leave it in a pile, and then make you reorganize it again once a year. Anyway, happy school year to you! Hope it’s not the Titanic!

Janelle – Not that misery loves company, but it warms my heart to know that others are in the same situation. Jan


4. misscheese - August 27, 2009

It’s one of those “I hate this and don’t want to do it” things when you have to sit those problem kids closer to you. Ah…to see their bright faces first 🙂

I love love love sitting in meetings/professional developments/in-services and intently listening to the abundance of knowledge (read: CRAP) they are feeding us 🙂

(p.s. I doodle, text, and make annoying/funny faces at my fellow colleagues during these amazing meetings, too)

MS – Texting, oh yeah. My friend had a Blackberry so I checked my blog stats. FYI – The chairs in the picture are from the high school where I had this thrilling professional development. Word to the wise – I have stooped to moving an annoying student to a rear table. Couldn’t take the pencil tapping and chatter for another minute. Then I put one of my top students up front to give me a reason to live. 🙂 You gotta do what you gotta do. Jan


5. Bev from england - September 2, 2009

hahaha glad to know u only wasted 5 mins of ur holiday over this annoyance !

Its not something id wanna have to do…and im sure like reorganising the furniture in a room, theres always one way that really works best.

Hope its all going well.



6. moxey - September 7, 2009

My first request of every new teacher is to put Spawn in the front row. It’s my only hope of ever getting even the tiniest bit of education in between the kid’s ears. First grade was set up as four desks in a quad, and it was not a good idea, at least not for my kid. Second grade was traditional rows. That worked.

My recent visit with Spawn’s teacher allowed me to see where the kid is sitting after a month of school. Instead of front and center, Spawn is on an outside row, near the teacher’s desk. Good call. The teacher quickly assessed that Spawn has some sensory issues and needs space as well as personal adult attention.

My own preference to classroom seating is back corner, opposite the door. That way I can take in everything and not feel like anyone is watching me.

Moxey – Good for you. Each year I have a parent who tells me on Day 1 that their child needs to sit up front, and I appreciate that. I fine tune seating all year. There are some kids that need to be up front, but are so annoying (pencil tapping, face making) that for my own sanity, they need to be in my peripheral vision. Several times a year, we change seats just to liven things up (or settle things down). I sit at home planning these changes like I was planning the seating for a White House Head of State dinner party. Jan


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