What Do I Do If My ESL Student Takes My Seat?

Imagine entering your car, only to find a stranger sitting in the driver’s seat. They don’t have keys, because it isn’t their car. They turn to you and smile, waiting for you to start the car and drive. This is exactly how it feels when a teacher enters a classroom to find a student sitting in the wrong seat.

Not only is it off-putting, but also creates a hostile environment that hinders learning. When students sit in the wrong seat, either by accident or on purpose, they are disrupting their own learning. By placing the teacher in an unfamiliar position, possibly further away from the whiteboard or across the room from a CD player, the classroom’s calm gives way to chaos. This situation must be rectified as soon as it is spotted.

As a teacher, if you enter the classroom and notice things are amiss, hang back in the doorway for a moment and see if the student realizes their error. If the student doesn’t move, then you should enter the classroom and lightly bump into them, making light conversation in hopes that they realize that they are sitting in the wrong seat. This will prompt most students to move to the correct seat, but if it doesn’t, do not give up and sit down in the incorrect seat unless you want the student to believe that there is no problem.

Many rooms have tables with chairs arranged on opposite sides. If the student doesn’t move, place your seat as close to the student as possible, and suggest that they move to the “empty side” of the table. To entice the student, you can place their homework or textbook in the area where you wish them to sit. For younger students, small candies or stuffed animals work best.

Adult students are oftentimes more difficult to move, as they cannot be physically lifted and moved as easily as children. However, if students are of a high enough level of comprehension, you can ask them politely to change seats. In many cases they will rightfully apologize and relocate themselves.

Although the situation can be very frustrating, it is vital that you do not let your emotions get the best of you. Crying, lashing out, or throwing objects are all acts that will cause the learning environment to become soured. Write any and all emotions that you are feeling on a piece of paper, and share the paper with the student. Introduce any unknown vocabulary via facial expressions, or write the definitions on the paper, next to the words.

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