Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Seating Chart that Shouldn't Be

Another post prefaced by the statement that this is my personal blog and the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post, and all other posts published here, are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer, or anyone else, for that matter.

A little over a week ago, I ran across the following message, from Diane Ravitch, in my Twitter stream.

Being from Arizona, I was naturally intrigued.  Maybe Dr. Ravitch had run across a pocket of innovation, a teacher who was doing something great, a school that was finding success in hard times -- something to emulate in a state that (like many others) seems to devalue public education with every passing legislative session.  We do have positive examples here in Arizona -- schools that are finding success against the odds, teachers who are truly "sentries against hopelessness" (Robert Debruyn), and educational practices (and practitioners) to emulate.

But, when I saw the linked image, I wasn't sure whether to laugh, cry, be angry, or saddened by such a simple depiction of what I believe to be the greatest challenge (and frustration) of public educators.

Published with permission - Artwork by David Fitzsimmons

Take a minute and read each position in this school seating chart.  Sound familiar?  In far too many of our schools, this image hits too close to home to be considered humor -- but the circumstances that lead to this mess are laughable.  In We Need to Know, I wrote about the danger of becoming immune to the circumstances of our students.  As educators, it is imperative that we are aware of what our students face if we are to have any chance of meeting their needs -- socially, emotionally, or academically.  But faced with an increasing number of students who are dealing with the cold realities of cruel circumstances, situations that force them to grow up too fast, differentiating is a daunting task for the best of educators.

Now, I certainly don't mean to imply that problems of this nature are the exclusive domain of public schools -- several of these issues plague our society, indiscriminate of socioeconomic status, or the school a student attends.  However, many of our public schools work with a greater percentage of students from challenging home situations (those without sufficient support, or vocal advocates) and they do it with less than adequate resources.

So where does that leave us?  From where I sit, there isn't a clear plan (on a national, or state level) that will adequately address these concerns.  A conversation about viable solutions (not that I have any) is probably best left for another day, and another post.  However, I like the suggestions, and questions, fellow Arizona educator John Spencer raises in his blog post Seven Thoughts on Education Policy. I think it is a great conversation starter for educational advocacy.

In the meantime, I encourage all educators to maintain a balance of high expectations, support, and an appropriate level of empathy, and understanding, for ALL students.
When the world says give up, hope whispers, try it one more time.  ~ Anonymous
(Special thanks to David Fitzsimmons for permission to share his artwork in this blog post)


  1. As educators and parents, we can choose to focus on the positive, and work from a strengths-based approach vs. a problems-based approach. I taught in an inner-city school, and recognized some of those problems among my former students. I think a much more powerful and healthy approach is to recognize the unique strengths of each student sitting in those seats, and grow from there. What if the seats were re-labeled "artist," "game designer," "large vocabulary," "likes to tell stories," and we went from there? We all have limitations imposed by our individual contexts. The beauty of life is there are no limits for those who recognize their strengths and have a vision of how things could be.

  2. Lisa, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post. I couldn't agree more with your approach to working with students who face significant challenges beyond the school walls (or any student for that matter). I would certainly never suggest that we should define our students in the terms used by the cartoonist to illustrate his point, but I do think it is important for educators to have an understanding of what is going on in the lives of their kiddos. While I certainly agree that each one of our students has limitless potential, I also know that many will need the consistent advocacy and support of a caring adult in order to reach their full potential.

    I think that is why I love the quote by Robert DeBruyn - "Coming to school each day can become a hopeless task for some children unless they succeed at what they do. We teachers are the sentries against that hopelessness." As educators, we really can be difference makers.

    Best Wishes,