We started the new term with a classroom reshuffle: it took four minutes and produced zero refusals or resignations.
With some classes, the seating plan is something you pay little attention to – a quick rejig each term to make sure everyone gets their turn near the board, with a few tweaks when left-handers and personalities clash.
Then there’s the other type of class – the ones who need a seating plan rethink every second week, when you realise that Danny can no longer be in the eyeline of Tyler or Joe, Kaylee can’t sit near Zoe and there is no seat yet invented that will keep Sam from going free range.
However you plan your strategy, you’re restricted by the classroom. These, in my experience, vary immensely. I’ve taught in lovely, spacious, welcoming rooms, where you can arrange breakout tables and horseshoes to your heart’s content. I’ve also taught in echoing narrow spaces where it’s virtually impossible to give every child a view of the board, rooms with non-opening windows that become a sauna in the summer term and classrooms that double as thoroughfares.
But, being teachers, we refuse to admit defeat. After a while, it becomes like a very complicated game of chess where you sense that somewhere there is a totally brilliant move that will bring instant victory, but no amount of gazing at the board will reveal it.
This class are a case in point. We’re on something like seating plan 102. I reckon the only way we’re going to solve every issue is to build a classroom the size of an aircraft hangar and install a bunch of single, forward-facing desks with soundproof surrounds.
'Jack's in the Tardis'
Even then, we’d have to find a suitable seat for Jack. He is the flaw in the algorithm, the random variable in every whole-class behaviour experiment. What works with him on Monday morning is normally kaput by the afternoon. He moves to the front, to the side, on his own, with a friend. Sometimes he gets reshuffled out of the classroom.
This new seating plan had him working for a full morning.
By the third day, he’d been in two different seats and I was running out of strategies. “Where am I sitting now?” he asked, coming in from the playground.
“I really don’t know,” I told him. “Just for this lesson, I’m going to let you choose.”
“Miss, Jack’s in the Tardis.” Several voices competed to be first with the news.
I looked up and saw Jack grinning at me from inside a large Doctor Who prop that’s taken up residence in the reading corner.
“It’s a reading lesson, so you can stay there as long as you don’t distract anyone,” I said, secretly hoping it might transport him to another dimension in which he would sit up straight and discuss the use of simile and metaphor in The Highwayman.
Jack beamed with delight and sat up straight, poem in hand. The reshuffle was working – for now.
Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym for a primary school teacher in the Midlands. She tweets @jo_brighouse