While other teachers are creating bulletin boards,
attending meetings, mapping the entire year,
I am calling up each of my new students
on the computer.

I look at their reading scores from Elementary
to see who will need more help. I find out
who was involved in playground fights,
cussed out their last teacher,
set the school on fire.

I check to see who lives with only one parent
or no parent at all. I check to see
who is allergic to bee stings, diabetic,
has asthma, which taking action
might mean the difference
between life or death.

It’s good to know if they are homeless,
migrant, may not have enough to eat.
Half of the school is on free and reduced lunch,
so sometimes I can make an educated guess.

The faster I get to know 180 students,
they cease to be blank faces, names on a page.
It takes patience and compassion
to understand the myriad of problems:
their house burns down, a grandparent dies,
a father commits suicide, they’ve had heart surgery,
or cancer that is in remission. The list goes on . . .

Then, I start building my seating charts,
with coded notes below their names,
using only a few capital letters
to denote what I need to know
and keep information confidential.

Poor readers, learning disabilities, or someone
who refuses to wear their glasses
all go in the first two rows. Students
who blurt out or bother others
are automatically assigned the back corners
with three good students positioned around them.

No seating chart is fool proof.
A good mechanic, I make adjustments
as the need arises.