Where You Choose to Sit in Your First College Class Says a Lot About You

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Almost 50 years ago, I was a college freshman during the fall of 1969, shortly after the United States put a man on the moon and right after music lovers in the Northeast celebrated Woodstock. Though I was a pretty good student in high school, I was still somewhat immature and, quite honestly, more interested in athletics than academics. Thus, when I walked into my first college class, I immediately made my first college mistake; I sat in the absolute worst seat in the entire classroom: the last seat in the last row, right next to the windows.

At the time, I think I convinced myself that I wanted to sit in the back, so I could clearly see everything that was going on and fully absorb the academic college experience. If I’m really honest with myself, though, I think I can finally admit that I wasn’t feeling too sure about my abilities. I didn’t want to sit up front because that meant I’d have to be prepared for class, paying attention to the professor, and willing to answer questions or participate in discussions. As a lifelong doodler, daydreamer, and procrastinator, I didn’t think I could handle all the pressure.

Today, after a long career as a teacher, I now know that my choice of a seat said a lot about me. That choice demonstrated my uncertainty, my lack of confidence, and my unwillingness to take a chance. If you are about to enter a college classroom for the first time, where you choose to sit will also say a lot about you.

While exceptions do exist, of course, generally, if you sit in the back of the classroom or on the edges near the wall or windows, you are telling your teacher that you don’t really want to be a full participant in the class activities. You are content to sit on the sideline, almost like a substitute in an athletic contest; you’re willing to watch, but you don’t really want to play the game. Naturally, experienced teachers know this, and they may call on you anyway, despite your attempt to hide in plain sight.

In fact, the ancient Greek writer Homer chronicled a somewhat similar situation in “The Iliad.” In his story about the siege of Troy, he explained how the military leaders at that time would often place the youngest and least experienced soldiers in the center of a formation, surrounded by the older and more experienced fighters. The leaders did this because they feared that if the unseasoned soldiers were on the edge of the formation, they would run at the first sign of danger, but if they were on the inside, they would be more likely to stay and fight. Unfortunately, if you sit on the edge or at the rear of the classroom, you, too, may be tempted to give up and leave when the work appears too difficult or overwhelming.

If you choose to sit in the front or in the center of the classroom, you are saying something else altogether, and you may encounter a much more positive experience. Veteran teachers refer to those front and center seats as the “Action Zone” of a classroom. If you sit in those seats, you are essentially telling your teacher that you are ready, eager, and excited to begin an intellectual adventure. In addition, you will be surrounded by like-minded students, and you will probably get caught up in their enthusiasm and exuberance for learning. As a result, you may find yourself in a study group with some of those students, and you are more likely to remember what was discussed in class if you participated in the discussion.

So, is the typical college classroom really like an ancient battlefield where you have to fight for your survival? No, not really. Instead, the classroom is more like a concert hall where your favorite musician or band is playing, and the seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Under those circumstances, wouldn’t you try to get a good seat up front, where you could see and hear everything and participate fully? Of course, you would. So why not approach your first college class in that same manner and find yourself a good seat in the action zone.

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