No, you’re sitting here.

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At the beginning of the year, I did a presentation for a 9th-grade class. As the students walked into the classroom, I told them where to sit. “Good morning! You can sit here,” I’d say, pointing to a table.

One student chose another table than the one I had pointed to. “I’ll sit here,” he told me, plunking himself down. He smiled and folded his arms.

“No,” I said. “You’ll sit here.” I pointed to the original table. I smiled back.

“But I can work better here,” he insisted.

“No,” I said again. “I’m very happy you’ll be in this class today, and so I need you to sit here.” I pointed again and repeated myself: “Here, please.”

He hesitated and looked around. The other students were staring. He grumbled, got up, and moved to the assigned seat.

Why insist? I certainly would not be teaching this student in the near future.

I insisted because if the student saw he could defy a direction, he would keep testing and he would not learn.

Yesterday, I noticed several students leaving a 9th grade Global History classroom* to drink water. I had visited this class several times and knew that the group of students could be challenging, and the teacher was new. I entered the classroom to see how I could support the teacher.

When I entered, the students were sitting with their friends rather than the assigned seats the teacher had given them. Many were chatting. I told the teacher we needed the students back in their assigned seats, and we could do it together. She agreed and welcomed the support.

Changing a student’s seat in the middle of a class can be a battle– a public display of upset and defiance. However, I figured that at this point, we had nothing to lose. We stopped the class, pointing out that learning wasn’t happening. We coached every single student to change their seat: “Johnathan is sitting in his correct seat, so is Mona. OK, we’re waiting on three more people to change. Great, Jose is moving.” As they moved, we also talked about why this simple act could lead to their graduation and success.

After about 5 minutes, almost every student had moved except for two boys. It was obvious that one boy was the leader, and the other boy was a follower showing off for the leader. I calmly whispered to both students, individually, that the next move would be to schedule a parent meeting. At this, the follower moved, muttering under his breath.

The last boy, the leader, did not move. He busily did his classwork, insisting he could learn better from his current seat. The class was almost over.

At this point, it was a different class: attentive and respectful. Listening. The teacher taught for the last several minutes.

The next period, I spoke with the student who refused to move his seat. I didn’t want him proceeding to another class and creating another standoff. My leadership coach Sonia joined me. We listened to his viewpoint that his assigned group did not work hard in Global. We pointed out that the student was currently sitting with were not necessarily supporting him, and were laughing when he was off-task. We also explained what a “standoff” is, and how creating standoffs was getting in the way of his learning. He agreed to sit in his assigned seat the next day. He also agreed that rather than creating “standoffs,” he’d follow directions and then speak to the teacher if he had a concern.

The simple act of insisting on a request, however small, creates a culture of respect. Visiting the class and interacting with the students were time-consuming, but worthwhile. I was glad that the teacher and I had taken the time to dive into the problem and create the kind of class we wanted.

*Several details of the story have been changed to respect the identities of the students and the teacher.

Photo credit: Julie Nariman

3 thoughts on “No, you’re sitting here.

  1. I crave your posts like a cut on the skin craves a Band-Aid! Your classroom management for behavior issues is outstanding. So far, I only taught small groups and classes of max. 10-15 students and I am worrying about teaching a class of 30-40 students . I will have to do so pretty soon, for my internship in SS. I am not a confrontational human being and I tend to let students decide for themselves. My worse weakness is to hesitate, when it comes to ask a student to do something and he/she says no. I guess, with time and experience, I will be able to look at the student and figure out a way to work with him/her without behavior issues. love how you handle the situation with the student who refused to move to the assigned seat. It was clever and also respectful. You did not forced him to move by yelling or threatening him. You did not raise your voice and you did not act like a ward in front of a criminal. You waited and then you talked to the student. You put the student before your ego and that’s the most difficult thing to do!
    BTW, the apple painting is beautiful, says the art teacher in me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your reflection is so honest. The same skills you use to get students to buy into your small classes will work in your larger classes. Know that after any rough class, you can reflect and the class can transform ther next day. I love the saying, “Your worst class/lesson is your best teacher. ” Thank you again for your thoughtful comments and I’ll pass on your admiration to my student and art teacher for the apple!

      Liked by 1 person

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