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December 21, 2008

Seating Strategies

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

When I was in elementary school, the teacher assigned us seats. Our desks looked like these:


One year -- might have been Third Grade -- the teacher had the desks side-by side in three rows rather than by themselves in four or five rows. The rub was, I had to sit next to a girl I didn't like for a good chunk of the school year.

After elementary school, we usually were able to sit where we pleased. My preference is to sit about halfway or two-thirds of the way back from the front row. My wife likes to sit near the front when we go to church, which is a little out of my comfort zone.

When I taught college classes or quiz sections, it was usually the gals who hogged the front row, distractingly crossing their legs -- something known to most male teachers.

Hmm. I wonder what the seating pattern is for female teachers? I never paid much attention to that at the time, but my guess is that female students were still more likely to sit towards the front of the classroom.

I'm not sure why I preferred to sit farther back. Perhaps it was a function of my personality, me being more of an observer than a participant, all else being equal. Or maybe it was because I liked to doodle cars and airplanes on the margins of my notebooks and didn't want the teacher to notice.

What are your thoughts on this important psycho-social matter?



posted by Donald at December 21, 2008


I went to school in Scotland. The teachers chose where we sat - dim at the front, bright at the back. (I once made a comment on an English website which was so misinterpreted that I suspect that the English habit was to let the dim sit at the back of the class.)
At University, the back of the classroom was the favoured site of those who would while away dull instruction by doing the crossword in The Times or The Scotsman.

Posted by: dearieme on December 21, 2008 7:46 PM

My main preference in school was to sit near either side of the classroom rather than in the middle. The front/back distinction wasn't so important.

Posted by: Peter on December 21, 2008 7:54 PM

This is a really interesting subject. During my teaching years, I experienced much the same, Donald, with the girls almost uniformly taking up the front rows, while the boys and a smattering of girls filled up the back section. I do think it's a sexual distinction, maybe some kind of primal territorial thing with the guys wanting a good vantage point to survey their territory and not wanting someone to be able to sneak up behind them. I'm also a back row guy and I think for that reason.

As for distracting female legs in the front row, I can also attest to that. Short skirts and protruding thongs make for a test of willpower as to where to focus your eyes. It was also interesting how aware some of the girls were in the kind of reaction they could produce in male teachers. I'm sure that's why some of them chose the front row, if not consciously. And this was all in high school. I'd imagine teaching college kids would add a whole other level to the dynamic.

Posted by: JV on December 21, 2008 8:06 PM

I still had assigned seats in most of my middle school classes, and even in a fair amount of my high school classes (from fall 1992 to spring 1999). I only experienced 100% free seating in college. I'm amazed that assigned seating for you ended more or less after elementary school.

If this difference is real, it's yet another example of how fast adults used to let kids grow up, whereas now adult supervisors try to force kids to stay sheltered, irresponsible kids forever, even if the kids themselves want to become adults quickly.

I didn't really care where I sat relative to the room -- only where I sat relative to my friends, namely close to them. As a group, though, sitting farther back is definitely the best. You just have a better survey of the landscape, not the least being the girls leaning over desks while wearing only booty shorts, or paper-thin pijamas if they're in college.

It's also a plus to sit next to girls who produce a stronger scent when they're ovulating. All girls give off a gripping scent in that phase of their cycle, but the strength varies among girls. I'll never forget this one girl in my 11th grade math class who sat one seat to the right and two seats back. It makes it impossible to focus on proofs by induction when a teenage cutie is filling the room with the heady aroma of her overheating core.

Posted by: agnostic on December 21, 2008 8:31 PM

It was also interesting how aware some of the girls were in the kind of reaction they could produce in male teachers.

Girls are aware of their sexual power once they go through puberty -- don't you remember, as a teenager, when girls would lean onto your desk and stare at you with their doe eyes when asking for some favor?

If they're aware of this power when the males are their peers, why wouldn't they be aware of it when the males are teachers?

And crossed legs in the front row ain't nothin' -- try being a tutor, where she's sitting right next to you, angling her naked legs so that her knee kisses yours, or so that her little toes touch your shoe. Or when you're grading her work and she stand almost right against you, stroking her long dark hair so that some of it pours onto your arm.

I've got to start tutoring again...

Posted by: agnostic on December 21, 2008 10:12 PM

Well, Donald -- you are either very demure, average (if you chose nearer the middle), or at worst, content to let others do the heavy lifting (in terms of interacting in class.) Which fits best?

Posted by: Lisa on December 21, 2008 10:55 PM


I never had any problem with the legs thing when I was lecturing, the other graduate students found it highly distracting from their own words, particularly in one hall that was angled so steeply that the professor could see up the skirts of girls seated anywhere in room. As for myself I was inhumanly professional in my focus. I once had a student stop by my office unscheduled at 11:00 p.m. in need of help for the final exam. I dutifully took out my notes and reviewed the Five Pillars of Islam while she told me the minutia of her daily life including her jerk boyfriend.

Oh, I knew what was going on, it's just I have a strong internal ethical code that not even a tight-bodied Japanese-Filipino mix could dissuade me from. She did well on the final anyways, so I assume it was just personal interest on her part rather than some quid pro quo thing.


I think that just means you got a B.O. kink. All the dancing around the subject is pointless. You're getting off on the slightly different chemical output of the sebaceous gland's bacterial growth than normal. Nothing to be ashamed about. Different strokes and all that jazz.

If you were so inclined to an experimental blind, I would bet you'd rate hippie chicks the most attractive by smell alone, once the reek of patchouli and dirt is controlled for.

Though this begs the question how you know it's ovulation you're smelling rather than just last night's garlic pesto fettuccine working it's way out of the pores, post-P.E. B.O. or even the smell of a girl on the rag. I wonder how you got validation on your hypothesis.

"You smell good, are you ovulating?"

"No, actually. I just didn't shower the past couple of days and I'm already on the rag."

Of course, answers may be off due to respondent's distortion...
...of the surveyor's face with an open handed slap.

Damn, that one works better verbally.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on December 22, 2008 5:45 AM

I still had assigned seats in most of my middle school classes, and even in a fair amount of my high school classes (from fall 1992 to spring 1999). I only experienced 100% free seating in college. I'm amazed that assigned seating for you ended more or less after elementary school.
If this difference is real, it's yet another example of how fast adults used to let kids grow up, whereas now adult supervisors try to force kids to stay sheltered, irresponsible kids forever, even if the kids themselves want to become adults quickly.

I'm midway between you and Donald in age and my school seating experience also was pretty much in the middle. As best I recall, grade school was assigned seating while high school was mainly free seating (no middle schools at the time). Of course it wasn't uncommon for high school teachers to have to change some seating arrangements to break up groups.

Posted by: Peter on December 22, 2008 11:49 AM

Lisa -- Probably all of the above, to one degree or the other. The notion of surveying the terrain that other commenters suggested is interesting, and there might be something to it -- not sure how much, though. And of course a big factor was doodling those cars and planes.

So far as class interaction is concerned, it depends on the subject (I don't say much if I'm ignorant or don't understand it very clearly.) Otherwise, I tend to let others get things started and then slowly build up to becoming one of the main talkers -- provided I'm confident about the subject.

Actually, the seating arrangement is an important consideration. The lecture-listener setup is not good for highly interactive discussion among students; it's more a teacher-student thing. Which is why most upper-division and grad school seminar settings are circular, mostly around a table.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 22, 2008 12:53 PM

I'm not sure why I preferred to sit farther back. Perhaps it was a function of my personality, me being more of an observer than a participant, all else being equal.

No one ever had "alphabetical seating"?

As my last name starts with a "Z", I'm used to sitting in the back of the class!

But I also favor sitting in the back and being able to survey the scene, when given a choice for seating.

Posted by: Hieronymous on December 22, 2008 1:26 PM

I starting sitting in the back once I started to become self-conscious, i.e. early puberty.

I believe that chronic back-row sitters are either deeply insecure or have an Attitude, as in bad-ass or not-a-team-player. I think the seat choice is very indicative of personality.

However, I pity the poor girls who are subjected to the olfactory hallucinations of an Agnostic who might be within sniffing distance!

Posted by: Sister Wolf on December 22, 2008 8:53 PM

I know it's not unique to a girl because I smell it from lots of girls, and only at some times during the month.

There's a study in Science from the '70s, one of the two big science journals, showing that vaginal secretions smell best during ovulation, worst when conception is impossible.

It's not my fault that Spike and Sister Wolf have such unrefined palates. Unfortunately it's not something I could teach you either.

And S.W., don't feel sorry for them. Feel sorry for you -- the aroma dries up like the rest of your junk down there around the mid-20s. I don't know if they have injections for that, but you might look into it.

Posted by: agnostic on December 22, 2008 11:47 PM

Lordy, Agnostic. You are such a creep.

Posted by: PatrickH on December 23, 2008 11:04 AM

Hahahaha! Let us not speak of our 'junk down there' Agnostic. But who among us could resist the poetry of your words?!

Posted by: Sister Wolf on December 23, 2008 4:51 PM

I'm sure Agnostic is much nicer in real life, to men at least, if only because he's small in stature and would probably get knocked out if he spoke to people like this in person. The Internet makes us all braver and probably a bit nastier than we usually are.

Posted by: nm on December 23, 2008 6:39 PM


You dodge the issue of how you know you're smelling ovulation and not just girls who don't use deodorant or douche well. If anything the smell coming off them is the *strongest* during another time of the month.

Also, I do note you made it difficult to dig up the article with such vaguely placed language. Thank God Science Magazine has a subscription search engine. (Surprised a grad school dropout would pay for an article?)

Okay, first off, let's hit the article itself.

Looking at the experimental protocols, unless the girls in the class were all wearing skirts with no panties, were in a near constant state of flushedness, and you normally greet people in the doglike fashion of sniffing their crotches, there's no way on God's green earth you'd be able to smell their vaginal secretions.

The entire article talks about samples gathered from donors and submitted to others to smell at a close range. Doty, Ford, et al, would laugh at your assertion that their research has any application to human sexuality in a non-intimate setting, particularly in light of further more recent research.

Looking at more recent research, sweat collection for pheromone reception involved having the women wear the same t-shirt for a week (y'all can remember to those unfortunate folks who wore the same thing for a week in high school, right?) and submitted to a regiment of special non odorized soaps and detergents. Even then, the testing was done by having men fairly huff the t-shirts from close up.

Even then, a preliminary examination of the literature focuses on the intimate nature of pheromone reception, particularly vaginal (see Globus and Cohen 1976 for an example).

Even if we expanded it to sweat, either you have a superhuman sense of smell, no one bathed, regular washed clothes, or used deodorant in your school, or you really really had boundary issues with girls in your class. Knowing your character, the last one is plausible at least.

Thirdly, the literature while mostly focused on younger donors (well duh, college girls need money), say nothing about the age of non-menopausal women in positivity of response or strength of odor. In fact a hot chick on the pill (which is quite a few of them in this day and age) would probably rate lower than a woman in her late 30s who's not on the pill. We're talking about hormonal decline and variations here, not active fertility.

So, in other words, you're just misusing and misinterpreting science to hide the fact you've got a massive B.O. fetish.

Deal with it, Aggie.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on December 23, 2008 7:31 PM

you've got a massive B.O. fetish

At least I have a nice wholesome fetish.

Posted by: Peter on December 23, 2008 9:59 PM

I loved sitting near or in the front of the class. I think for the teachable attention that I thought it would garner but I was shy and very subconscious. In some classes, I chose very carefully. Depending on the teacher and classmates, if I didn't particularly like or respect the teacher I sat further in back or off to the side and I avoided those students I either did not like or felt chemistry from. I could not focus if they made me feel uncomfortable. I was solely interested in learning not socializing. The shyness hindered my ability to speak and actually ask questions so often the front 2 or 3 row placement did not garner a thing.

I had assigned seats in elementary and alphabetical in some classes in middle and high school. I most always fell between to boys and I would blush and drag my feet getting to those classes. Reluctant to converse because boys tend to talk when you sit between them. I had one class in middle school where I was surrounded and every other girl was at the end of the roster. It also so happened to be a teacher whom my father had for his high school English teacher and she would often ask me about my father. That was fun but the boys surrounding me made the other girls jealous and all I wanted to do was get along.

Posted by: Joy on December 24, 2008 10:36 AM

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