The Classroom Compass: Navigating Teachers’ Preferences 

I’ve always felt it’s a good day when I walk into a classroom and the desks are arranged in an unexpected way, a circle per sé. It means my teacher is switching things up for the day, doing something to keep the class engaged. As the students at Christian Brothers High School, we can all […]

I’ve always felt it’s a good day when I walk into a classroom and the desks are arranged in an unexpected way, a circle per sé. It means my teacher is switching things up for the day, doing something to keep the class engaged.

As the students at Christian Brothers High School, we can all call ourselves Falcons. But once we enter a classroom, we all must acclimate differently to our teachers’ personal styles and rules. We don’t get to choose whether or not there is a seating chart, but all teachers have their own preferences on what will best support the kind of classroom they want to run. Each of them has a different level of comfort with how much or little control they need to have over the classroom in order to foster productivity in themselves and their students. But what is the thinking behind all of these opinions?

Three of the four teachers I talked to arrange their desks in a semicircle-like shape with rows no more than a few seats deep. Although Mr. OJ Solander uses rows for finals, he finds it is much easier to reach students when they are spread out and finds it useful for students to see each other during class discussions. “I like that it has kind of a stage area in the center,” he says.

Similarly, Mrs. Maureen Wanket says “I don’t want anyone to really be in the back row, so there’s two rows at the most.” The way she arranges desks doesn’t matter too much because she has her students constantly moving and working in groups.

Mr. Vince Leporini, however, typically arranges a majority of his desks in rows, especially on test days. But like Mrs. Wanket, the set up is fluid to the agenda of each day. “The space should mirror what we’re doing and complement it,” the social studies teacher says.

Seating charts versus open seating are determined by grade level more than anything else in Mr. Solander’s eyes. He acknowledges that his seniors are on their way to college and allows them to choose their seats freely but puts his sophomores in assigned spots. “I don’t remember once there being a seating chart in college, so that’s kind of a ‘learn to take care of yourself’ thing,” he says.

Mrs. Wanket is confident in her ability to contain her students’ chatter with friends, and therefore also gives them choice. “I have control and authority over my classroom, so if I want students to not talk they don’t talk. I also don’t lecture very much, so most of class is kids talking to each other so they should be by their friends.”

Mr. Lep’s preference is based on his familiarity with his students. “I use seating charts because I really dislike the tediousness of taking roll, so as soon as I learn everyone’s name and can identify them, I don’t care so much for them.”

Mr. Lep and Mr. Chris Symkowick-Rose understand that their students are more knowledgeable on where they will best succeed personally in a classroom than anyone, but Mr. Sy-r uses a seating chart. “It streamlines class so I can tell almost immediately of who’s here and who’s not, and if someone is missing or when someone gets up to use the bathroom, I know exactly who is gone,” the religion teacher shares. “I think it’s absolutely essential. It also helps me meet students needs who have special preferences of seating because of learning or physical disabilities.”

While the phone caddy policy may be frustrating, teachers have varying views on why they use it and how much they enforce it. Mr. Sy-r and Mr. Solander believe strongly in the need for students to learn how to manage their phone temptations and usage.

“When we’re doing something, I’d like [the phones] in the pockets. I enforce that more with the sophomores than the seniors under the theory that seniors are about to have to take care of themselves” Mr. Solander says.

“I think it’s important to learn to avoid the temptation to be on their devices all the time,” Mr. Sy-R says. “That’s a reality of the world they’re going to go into. I think it’s more important to be able to avoid those distractions on their own rather than having them put it in a phone holder.”

Mr. Lep understands that the iPad can be used in the same way as a phone and sees there is a duality of demanding phone caddies. “It is frustrating as a teacher when students aren’t fully engaged in the discussion,” he expresses.

Akin to keeping students quiet in class, Ms. Wanket is confident in the control she holds in the classroom and extends to phone usage. “If I want a student to be off their phone, they’re off their phone. Students do as I say.”

Game{igeon and online shopping are easy distractions on the iPad, but the ability to play music can be useful and even essential for some students, a concept of which Mr. Lep is understanding. “Many students use it as a way to mitigate anxiety or other negative feelings in the classroom. I have trouble believing that listening to music for eight hours a day is long term healthy, but I don’t understand the new generation in a lot of ways too!”

Mr. Sy-r also permits headphone usage, but only for individual work. In group settings, he sees listening to music as a way of shutting peers out and being disrespectful. “When I’m in a public workspace, I have headphones in because it communicates to others that I don’t want to be engaged and that’s the message that headphones give.”

As an English teacher, Mr. Solander knows that it is incredibly difficult to read and write productively when distracted by music. “It’s like trying to have two different conversations with two different people at the same time.” However, Ms. Wanket allows her students to listen to music while they write. 

Too many times have I completed an assignment on Notability but forgotten to submit it on Schoology, and it is then marked late. Sometimes the digital system can be more frustrating than simply handing in a paper, but Mr. Sy-r finds digital assessments particularly convenient. “Schoology enables me, if I have three or four different prompts, to read all of the same prompt at the same time. It allows me to grade accordingly knowing how students are completing that assignment.” For regular assignments, he doesn’t mind either way, and notices that having paper in hand cancels the challenges of split screen and switching between apps.

Mr. Lep has a split view. “I think for small task assignments, digital submission is way easier to stay organized for all of us. I do prefer more artistic responses in physical form. I prefer paper tests because we still haven’t figured out how to stop the high levels of academic integrity issues.”

Mr. Solander works with a fair amount of clutter, so he prefers day to day assignments to be digital. He also appreciates that Schoology grades and sends quiz scores to PowerSchool automatically but needs essays turned in hard copy. Ms. Wanket has a more unique approach where she has students turn in essays digitally and then she returns them as a hard copy. Like Mr. Lep, she gives tests on paper, but many assignments are turned in digitally. 

While every subject calls for a different class structure and every teacher is comfortable in their own ways, many preferences are shared among at least a few teachers. Consistency in the routine throughout a multi-set day encourages students to follow the rules in every class. While the need to readjust to different rules every time I walk into a classroom can be a lot to juggle, I feel what is most important for the overall success of a class is the teacher having room to instruct in a way they know is best for them. Different seating arrangements in each class create essential diversity throughout our day, as do all other varying teacher preferences. School can be entertaining, not only because of the constant switching between subjects and content, but also by different teaching tactics and engagement. 

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