Monday, November 28, 2011

The Back Row Kids

The view from my desk
Since last Tuesday, I've been contemplating a post called "The Front Row" on Otter Landing's blog. I keep thinking about those back row kids. It's hard for me you see, because I don't have a back row.  I don't like to let kids hide.

Right now, my desks are arranged in rows (I change my room arrangement a lot). So, I often teach from the back of the room.  That way, the back is the front and the front is the back.  Those front row kids stay engaged because they want to be the ones to tell you the answers, but the back row kids are now in the front and they can't hide.  

My desk is at the side of the room so that when I mix up the desks into little pods of three or four, the side is the front and the front and back are now the sides.  Confused?  So are the kids sometimes, but no one gets to hide.

I have also been a back row hider myself at times.  I have been known to have my desk in the back. That really confuses the hiders in the back row, because now they are sitting beside the teacher. You can't hide when you are beside her!

I think that often the back row kids aren't really hiding. They are waiting, daring challenging you to create something so engaging that they have to come out of hiding.  They want you to make them come out  and participate. Make it worth their while.

I also believe that the back row hiders want to see if you care enough to connect with them or if you only concerned with getting through curriculum. So make those connections.

Talk to them outside of class--and not about school. Ask about their game the night before, how rehearsal is going, did they get a deer over the weekend, how their race went.  And sometimes, go beyond the obvious. When NASCAR driver Dan Wheldon was killed back in October, I asked a young race car driver if it scared him to race after accidents like that. I got a great lesson in the difference in NASCAR and modified racing and why that kind of accident wouldn't happen in his races.  But, he knew I had been thinking about him and cared.

Soon, the back row will come to you. They'll let you know about their game, their rehearsal, they'll bring you a picture of that deer.

And, once they come to you, you've got them. Now, you can sneak a little learning in on them. You see, back row kids don't really like to be preached to, lectured, or talked at. They want to do things. They want to be active. Personally, I try not to talk for more than 15 minutes, then we move on to an activity of some kind.  
Relate. Talk. Do.
That's my philosophy.

And here's a little secret. It works with the front row kids too.


  1. What an absolutely terrific post, and philosophy. It's great that you change the desks so often, and move around. Deb, you always seem to be looking for the connections with your students, in so many good ways. I love that you think the back row kids are not really hiding, but have other motives. Thanks for daring to do the different in high school!

  2. That's great that you don't really have a back row! I try to keep all my students in close proximity to the front, which is not hard with only 14 students. I think that is great that you change your desk arrangements frequently. I like how you emphasize the importance of connecting with those students in the back.

    Jee Young

  3. "I also believe that the back row hiders want to see if you care enough to connect with them or if you only concerned with getting through curriculum." That is so true! Everytime we venture out of our own comfort zones to do this, we are rewarded many times over...and the kid learns!!!

  4. I could hear you writing this. It's so you and your philosophy. I'm glad someone like you cares about all kids, including the backrow ones.

  5. Love it -- RELATE. TALK. DO. I think it just may be my philosophy too. Love that you boiled it down to three powerful words.

    I wish I could sit in any row of your class. :)


  6. I used to (before I was retired) move myself and my students around like that also. And I'd have a seat anywhere. I ditched my desk and we didn't really have a back, front, or sides to the room. Elementary is often set up that way, but I think that all ages need that! And you are more likely to hear Relate. Talk. Do. in the lower grades. But again, it is necessary at all ages and in all walks of life. Thanks for a powerful post.

  7. Wonderful post! I love your idea that the "back row kids" aren't hiding so much as challenging us to do something that engages them. Very powerful. I also love the way you mix up the room. I always have my kids at tables and I weave in and out between all of them during class, so there's not really a back to my room either. My desk is in the "back" corner but I never sit at it anyway! Still though, there are always those kids who try to be less involved. Thanks for the great reflection on them!

  8. Love the pic of your class! The paragraph about how you sometimes have your desk in the back row made me chuckle. I also like the idea that the back row kids really aren't hiding but waiting to be engaged. As always, great voice in your writing.:)

  9. The voice in your writing, in addition to the meaning behind it, makes it clear that your room would be inviting, safe, and engaging no matter who I was. You have such a wonderful way about you, who wouldn't want to spend time beside you (even when you are slipping in a little learning)?

  10. Thanks all--Jen, I have had tables in the past (when I taught junior high) and I loved them. I may start working on my principal for them in my high school room for next year. I guess I just think it's important to walk around and relate to all the kids--I just hate leaving someone out....

  11. Can I just say me too to all the comments that have come before me. Wow! Do those kids know how lucky they are? I bet they do! Incredible post with so much heart. Thanks.

  12. Love your voice. You speak truth. You made me think of the back seat students I work with.

  13. There is so much about this post that I love. Let's just start with the fact that you rearrange your room. I think that's so important. Too often we allow kids to stagnate because they sit in the same place. Next, let's move to the fact that you teach from the back of the room. That's pure genius... something every first-year teacher should try. Third (and not last, just last for this comment since it's my bedtime), it's wonderful that you see the value in engaging your students about things other than school. Too often we forget that our students are people too (just like we don't sleep in school under our desks)!


  14. You are an absolute wealth of knowledge. You constantly open my eyes and make me reflect on my teaching and philosophy. Your heart and approach to teaching is inspiring. I change my seating every couple of weeks but it's more for variety then purpose. Thank you for giving me something to ponder.

  15. Elizabeth, I really started arranging my room because I get bored with the kids in the same old places all the time. I don't use seating arrangements with my high school kids, preferring to let them sit where they want, but they always sit in the same old place! So, as class assignments dictate, I rearrange to fit the situation.