To Sit or to Stand (is there a question mark?)

I wrote a post a while ago about Teaching Do’s and Dont’s and a large part of the comment section was about whether or not a teacher *should be or *needs to be standing in front of the audience, or sitting down (and is there a ‘should’ in this discussion at all)

Some collected quotes from the comments are below:

  1. Anne: The thing that stood out for me (which I suppose must be an Asia rule) is “Sit down as much as possible.” I literally did a double-take. I wondered if you were joking. I even feel *guilty* when I sit down too much in class, particularly classes with young learners.
  2. Zhenya (me): I was taught that when you stand and look down on students it might intimidate them and they might not feel ready to speak up. I guess, depending on the context, but I tent to stand a lot in a large(r) classroom or working with a large group of people (20+)
  3. David: I spend around 80-90% of my class time sitting down – but that’s mainly because I teach very small groups (2-3 students per class) and standing up would seem very intimidating.
  4. Ron: I do think there is strategy to be played in one or the other. I don’t think i would ever give instructions sitting down, for example, as I want to be in “control” and probably use the board or mime. When I approach a small group or pair to monitor I usually stand at a “safe” distance, not to intrude and make it teacher centered. If I want to facilitate I will kneel, as mentioned and use what I call a counseling voice as not to disturb other students and to keep it safe for those I am working with. I too and proponent of monitoring from behind – not always possible. I think we need to be mindful of the students’ culture too and their expectations. When students are doing pair work I don’t sit because this is the most important time to monitor if the students are on task and for assessing the TL [target language, or the key structures/vocab taught].
  5. Micaela: With YLs I find that, unless we’re all sitting in ‘Circle Time’, I don’t have time to sit down!! Monitoring twelve children who constantly have questions, need help, want to show me what they’ve done, etc… I feel like I’ve run a race at the end of the day.
  6. Hana:

a) The ‘to sit or not to sit’ question is intriguing. I would say that basically, I follow my intuition in this respect – not some rules I learnt in a methodology course; when I feel I can control/monitor the class from the sitting position, i.e. when students are listening and working, I relax and sit down. However, when I spot that the students at the very back are playing on their cell phones instead of doing their work, I feel it’s my duty to stand up and let them know that I’m aware of the fact that they aren’t paying attention.

b) I believe that when the teacher sits down on or leans against the desk, the atmosphere becomes more relaxed and informal – I do this during whole class discussions. By the way, I find it very cool to take a seat among the students (in a horseshoe arrangement) and virtually become one of them.


I realize I am still thinking/reflecting on this, especially in the light of working with teacher trainers and observing their interaction with teachers on the course. Some things that I do in class are:

Going at the back of the room for the listening part of a lesson, or for any at-length group work (one of my colleagues was drawing her students at this time!) Students or course participants will look at the stereo/computer (or any equipment you are using to play the recording) but not at me. (which means I can have a sip of water or coffee, or just breathe)

Playing with very young learners: (rather than teaching them) this often means running around and having no time to sit down and relax at all. I remember that in some lessons I taught they were asking ‘when can we sit down and have some rest, teacher?’ – At that time this seemed to be a good sign meaning we could do some quiet (and serious!) ‘writing’ tasks. Well, not writing really, more like drawing and tracing letters, but still tasks that required more concentration and focus.

Starting a lesson/session from a new place in the room: from the back of the room, or the side. Turning the back side of the room into the ‘front’ for the whole lesson, or for a part of it.

Leaving the room for some time (with the door open to listening/monitoring, etc.)


Sitting down with the students/participants  – at a desk, on the floor (depending where we are)

Some of the questions I can ask myself, or trainers on processing/reflecting various seating/standing choices in class:

  • have I ever experienced this myself as a learner? How was it?

  • would this work for myself as a learner? Why so?

  • have I ever asked the learners/teachers what they think about it?

  • would it make a difference on the learning outcome of the lesson? In what way(s)?

  • would it work for adult learners in the culture I am from? Why do I think so?

  • would it work for young learners in the culture I am from? Why do I think so?

  • would it work for the learners in the culture I am planning to work in? (working in)?



A final thought

If it is a new group – of students, or participants on a course – I make a conscious effort to sit down (for at least one ice-breaking activity), take a deep breath, make an eye contact with the people listening to me, and relax. Doing so helps me be in/feel the moment better, and from what I notice, it helps the group feel the same. A bit more relaxed, a bit more smiley.

starting a course


Some links that may be relevant/useful:

Teacher Positioning in the Classroom

20 Tips for Safe Learning Environment


About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict
This entry was posted in Teacher Reflections, Trainer Reflections and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to To Sit or to Stand (is there a question mark?)

  1. Wilma Luth says:

    Love the pictures of your different monitoring methods! Very useful post for thinking of the reasons to use different ways to watch / see / check in / monitor / pay attention to the students / participants.


    • Zhenya says:

      Thank you for the comment Wilma! Yes, making those meaningful choice is so important, isn’t it – the ‘why’ behind where the teacher is at each moment in class… Glad you liked the pics 🙂


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