Why we ought to pick our own seats in every class

The Wednesday Society

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one person to dissolve the studious bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the other students in the classroom, the superior opportunity to learn and grow as entitled to them by proper schooling, a decent respect for the longsuffering of teachers requires that one should declare the causes which impel them to seek that superior opportunity through being allowed to select their own seats.

The bitterest setback in a whole semester might be when a student walks into class and sees the seating chart. Especially as students age, seating charts become more and more permanent through a semester, and teachers become less likely to adjust them based on student compatibility and optimal placement. Midway through my junior year, as a part of many classes where teachers leave seating charts the same for a quarter or more, I’m here to tell you that this is a bad thing. Students should be permitted to select their own seats, or at the very least, seating charts should be changed often. The quality of their education depends on seat placement. 

This shouldn’t be surprising, either. In my experience, teachers often place studious kids with the less studious ones, to facilitate conversation and a boost in learning for the less studious child. This is all well and good, and likely grade-boosting, for the less studious student―but a punishment for the studious one. When students are allowed to pick their own seats, they of course sit beside their friends, and if they and their friends are inclined to be rowdy and not pay attention or focus then they won’t. If a good student is allowed to sit with their friends they will. Mixing the unwilling two has only ever served to irritate both and depress the learning of the attentive student, and minimally, if at all, improve the learning of the less studious student. And it’s not the attentive student’s responsibility to help out an unwilling classmate. That’s the teacher’s. 

Further, when a classmate is uncommunicative, it slows those around them down. Most classrooms work in pod format―especially important and often difficult core classes like math and English. These classes require a great deal of group work. In English, fascinating discussions become weighted with unresponsiveness. Students who find the topic of debate interesting are shut down and unable to really explore the topic because they have no one to talk with―and if they keep talking, they become in danger of monopolizing the conversation. Then, even worse for group work is math class. The math curriculum at Waunakee High School almost completely relies on group work with four students, each tasked with a certain role designed to maximize group work efficiency… and you just know, based on the beginning-of-the-year lectures handily provided by each math teacher, that the teachers get together and have meetings on the “benefits and importance of group work.” We get it! It’s “good for us.” But when a math teacher hands me and three other clueless individuals a five-page packet and we have no idea what to do―what’s the point? We may not learn anything at all―or worse, teach ourselves the concept wrong.

In the end, seat placement seriously impacts student learning, from suppressing their cognitive capabilities to damaging their actual learning of material. If students were allowed to pick their own seats, learning would become a much more self-accountable thing. Let the students who wish to learn, learn. Let the students who don’t wish to learn figure it out on their own. And above all, please don’t give me a complicated new mathematical concept and expect me to figure it out with three other students who also have zero idea of what’s going on.