Lecture Hall Management: What the Seating Chart Can Do For You.

By James Work

It was the semester I was given a huge auditorium and 60 students to lecture to, and also the semester I FINALLY accepted the fact that out of any given class there would be 10% excellent students and 10% clinkers.

Aside: The last class I taught was a graduate seminar in my own home, and sure enough—out of just 11 students, there was one I looked forward to having there and one who caused me nothing but anxiety and frustration.

Anyway, at the second or third meeting I announced that I would be making a seating chart to help me remember names and had everyone stand up.

Let's see if I can still remember the order of my criteria —

"First," I asked, "How many of you will be attending class 100% of the time?" A show of hands went up. "Alright, come forward."

"Now then," I asked, "How many of you will probably miss class only once or twice this semester?" Another show of hands went up. "Alright now, you come forward.”

Out of those who'd come forward, I asked: "How many of you will probably be asking questions or giving me input when you have something to contribute?" Another show of hands. "Alright, come forward; you folks take the front row."

Now, to put my problems into groups —

"All of you who like to read the newspaper at the start of class sit in that back corner. Bother each other. All of you who must regularly consume beverages and hamburgers sit in the other back corner. Those of you who are going to be here most of the time, but don't eat, drink or consume mass media during class, please fill in the middle seats."

So then we went on awhile chatting about these different behaviors. I let the students air their gripes about people who carry on personal conversations next to them—and about the stink of french-fries and burritos—and the slurping of coffee—and all the other little annoyances.

In the end most agreed—if a bit reluctantly—participating regulars should sit up front while late comers and paper readers stay in the back. Those who came as spectators were comfy in the middle chairs.

The next day I told them to sit in their "proper" section according to their own assessment of their own in-class behavior. I made the seating chart and commenced teaching to the front four rows. What was odd was how many in the back row gradually moved forward during the semester.