I had an interesting experience recently in an elementary school classroom.
I sat in the front of the room, by the teacher’s desk.
The student I was there to see was absent, so I sat at their desk.
When I was in school as a student, I was a fidgeter. My legs were in constant motion and my books, covered with perfectly taped brown paper bags (thanks, mom) were plastered with the best pediatric graffiti I could produce.
My last name begins with S, so I often sat in the back because of ‘alphabetical order’ seating. It allowed me to tune out and tune in as I needed to, without drawing attention to myself.
I immediately noticed that there was an intensity to sitting so close. I felt like the teacher’s eyes were on me all the time. Everything was brighter, louder and bigger. When I turned around, everyone made eye contact with me. Uh oh! They’re watching my every move, too! I felt the need to be “on” a lot more than when I used to sit in the back of the room as a kid.
The dysregulation kicked in fairly quickly. The fidgeting increased. I hated it.
Fast forward. I did another class observation and sat in the back of the room. The stress was much less. I felt like I could let my hair down a little bit (figuratively, of course) and fidget as needed, which I did. It was a little harder to hear the teacher, so I wish she had a microphone, but I was still able to get everything. She came by for a check-in every so often. Even at my age, I still sat up when she was heading towards me, but I loved the connection. Yep, the back of the room with some check-ins was definitely for me. AND, it lead to a GREAT conversation about the flexibility we need to have when we write “preferential seating” in an IEP or 504 plan.
We shouldn’t assume that the front of the room is the best fit for a student who needs support. It certainly may be, but it also may increase the student’s stress.
The best solution to finding the right location for learning? Get the student involved in the decision-making process!