Photos by Corban Phillips

By Elena Foreman (Contributor)

As I was sitting down in class one morning a friend of mine stood up from the end of the row and commented casually, “You really like that front seat, Elena. You have it in two classes.” Slightly startled, I looked up at her speechlessly, my thoughts spinning. I really like this seat? That makes it sound like such a personal preference. Echoes of past conversations then rushed to my ears: “The front seat is so scary,”  “Our professor is loud; the second row is right for me” or “I can’t sit there, Elena; I just can’t sit in the front.” Ok, so it is personal. But I still think it’s a good place to be — and not just for me. 

By taking a physically prominent position in classes, students are inwardly committing to pay attention to the professor, to learn, and to participate. These things aren’t always easy, but they should be done regardless. Taking the front seat regularly reminds me of these obligations. With me, it is not an unconscious habit.

Taking the front seat also communicates my ideals to the professor, who then forces me to keep my commitments. In front, in full view of the lecturer, I am pressured to take notes on what he emphasizes. The professor can see if my pencil is moving or not, and I have known professors who look at me pointedly when it wasn’t. Also, sitting in the front urges me to try to understand the lecture, not merely to hear it. This seat also spurs me to participate in class, which in turn assists both my grade and often my relationship with the professor. Students commonly complain of tiredness and of missing meals, but when I sit in front with the professor’s eyes right on me, I have to repress my yawns, forget my hunger, and focus even harder on what is being said.  The pressures of being in front force me to keep these commitments.

According to research, I am not alone in benefitting from sitting in front. Studies show a correlation between classroom seat positioning and student grades. Professor Lenae Nofziger elaborated about her husband’s investigation on the topic which revealed the closer to the front we sit, the better our grade is — statistically.

Lastly, I can speak to the professor throughout the class by my facial expressions. Without interrupting, I can communicate confusion or appreciation. I can ask him to go on, or tell him, “I get it.” I would make the same facial expressions from the back, but I would not then be in the professor’s line of sight, so there would be less likelihood of acknowledgement or awareness.

With the implementation of a Hyflex model of learning and increased digital classrooms, the screen becomes a front seat. In Northwest University classrooms, students who attend via Zoom are projected onto large TV screens at the front of the room where they can actively participate in classroom learning. Additionally, the individual’s screen becomes a prime opportunity to demonstrate a front row mindset with proper Zoom etiquette, which refers to participating with an active video feed, conscious muting and unmuting in conversation, and attentive learning with the lectures or discussions.

I realize that front seats are not for everyone. It is disconcerting to have a professor step up to you, look over your head, and boom out the objective of the daily lesson; however, sitting in the front reminds me to commit to the class, pressures me into keeping that commitment, and heightens my involvement in the class.  So next time anyone remarks on my preference for the front, I might just say, “Yes, I do.  I know it’s a vulnerable seat, but it forces me to concentrate and to participate in class, and I’m sure if you sat up here by me, you’d benefit, too.  So come up, friend!”

So, I see what you mean. There are pressures in the front. It’s awkward when professors stare at me yawning in an 8 a.m. class. I don’t like it when my professor looks at me when I’m the only one in class not writing. But that’s the point— I shouldn’t yawn, and I should take notes.  So, it’s good that these awkward things happen to me.  That’s why I like the front.