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New Jersey Teacher Teaches Complex Lesson Of Acceptance Through The Simple Symbol Of An Empty Chair
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Good News, People2 months ago

New Jersey Teacher Teaches Complex Lesson Of Acceptance Through The Simple Symbol Of An Empty Chair

Let me tell you a short story about a very important teacher I had, the one that essentially walked me to the path of writing in the first place. Every occasion throughout the school year, she would write all of her students a little poem. Something to note the celebration itself, something to honor her subject, something to let us know that she cared and wished us well. I still have all of them saved.

It’s the little things that make a difference to a student. So you can all thank her for being able to read my little writings, as those little words inspired me to create my own. Today we will look at another incredible teacher, who always had a spare chair in his classroom throughout the 52 years he’d been teaching.

Before we dive in, please make sure to leave your memories of your teachers in the comments below, upvote the story if you enjoy tales like these, and, of course, follow the author to make their day a little better!

More info: YouTube

Daniel Gill has kept an empty chair in the middle of his classroom throughout his 52-year teaching career, but what is the story behind it?

Image credits: CBS New York

Teachers are like magicians; with their one bag of tricks they somehow manage to get important points across. If one doesn’t work, then another technique is to be used. But one has been used by 75-year-old teacher Daniel Gill throughout his whole 52-year career.

Ever since the 1970s, his classroom at Glenfield Middle School, Montclair, New Jersey, has had an additional chair located in the center of the room. It’s not a method of punishment, nor a reserved seat for admin or a parent. But it serves as a reminder, for both Dan and his students. A reminder to stay kind.

“Each year I teach lessons around Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday about the Civil Rights movement,” Dan told TODAY. “I wanted to connect the students in a personal way to what that meant.”

It stems from the time he was himself but a 9-year-old schoolboy, going to celebrate a birthday party with his best friend, Archie

Image credits: CBS New York

In the 1950s, when Dan was 9 years old, he and his best friend Archie went to a birthday party held in the same apartment building where Dan was living. Gifts in hand, the boys arrived and knocked on the door, excited for the festivities to begin.

The mother of the child who was celebrating their birthday opened the door and invited Daniel to come in but took one look at Archie and told him there were no more chairs left.

Dan, confused at the situation, offered to sit on the floor, share the one chair, or to get more from his own apartment. But the woman just repeated that there were no more chairs.

The mom let Dan in, but Archie was told there were no more chairs available. Despite Dan trying to find a solution, the woman’s answer was still ‘no’

Image credits: CBS New York

Then it dawned on Daniel. The only difference between him and Archie was that they had different skin colors: Dan, white, and Archie, Black. The two left together that night in tears, but it would be a moment which inspired the teacher, driving him to where he is today.

He moved to Montclair from New York City as a new teacher and worked to transform Glenfield Middle School, where he teaches today, to become a magnet school for the arts.

The school became a model for other schools’ desegregation with the help of Daniel, who, at 25 years old, was full of confidence that he could make a difference. He was central to the implementation of the house system, where students stay with the same core teachers through their three years of middle school.

The only possible reason was the woman’s bias against Archie’s skin color. The two boys left in tears, shocked at what happened

Image credits: CBS New York

“We need to be a class of opportunity,” Daniel said. “Archie was denied the opportunity to go to the birthday party because of a bias the woman had.” That’s where the empty chair comes in. “I put a chair in my classroom so that anybody who comes to my classroom filled with anticipation, like a party, would feel welcome,” he said.

The chair, and what it symbolizes, has been Dan’s guiding principle as a teacher and as a person. “Not all of us can become president, not all of us can become senators, but if all of us do our due diligence in how we treat other people, then this will be a better world.”

Is the chair really empty, when it holds such incredible weight of injustice, inequality, and discrimination? However, the simplicity of it might be the strength of the symbol. “One of my jobs is to take complex ideas and make them meaningful to kids. Kids work well with symbols,” Dan told The Modern Met.

“It’s a reminder that they can do better – better academically, socially, and emotionally – but also to make people feel welcome and make this a better place to live.” He knows that his message is resonating when visitors come to the classroom and the kids ask the newcomers, “Do you know why we have that chair?”

The moment continued to inspire Dan in his teaching career, and through a simple symbol of the empty chair, he aims to teach unconditional acceptance to his students

Image credits: CBS New York

Dan is planning to retire from teaching after the 2022-2023 school year, but this will not be the end, as he’s driven to spread the message of the empty chair far beyond Montclair. He is planning to write a book, dedicated to Archie, who passed away last year. The two had lost touch decades ago, but Dan found his relatives on social media.

The book will be called “No More Chairs” and Dan hopes it will inspire other teachers to keep an empty chair in their classroom. “In my wildest dreams, I hope it imparts to kids how they can be better and how they can treat people better. I hope they will be decision-makers in their own class,” Dan said.

The 75-year-old teacher will retire after the academic year 2022-2023, but it won’t be the end of this story, as he’s going to write a book dedicated to Archie

Image credits: CBS New York

“I’ve had 52 years of doing what I love,” Dan admitted. “It has kept me young, being surrounded by young people who energize me and teach me how to be a better person all the time. I never had to work a day in my life.”

His love and dedication to teaching has not gone unnoticed, as Daniel has received two Weston Awards for Excellence in Teaching as well as the Montclair NAACP’s 2013 Teaching Award.

His main goal as a teacher – to help his students be a little bit more curious. He told Patch: “I’m not big on getting the right answer. […] I ask lots of questions. I try to create an atmosphere where curiosity is rewarded and no question is dumb. And I try to get them to apply that curiosity to themselves and their world.”

Daniel believes that “if all of us do our due diligence in how we treat other people, then this will be a better world”

Image credits: Kevin Wong (not the actual photo)

Curiosity and acceptance are two of the lessons that we can take from Daniel Gill and we can do more than hope that there will always be enough chairs for everyone.

Let us know what you thought of the story in the comments below. Do you have any memories of a special teacher? Was there something they did that taught you valuable lessons? Can’t wait to read your answers and I hope you have a wonderful day or evening!

People have loved this idea, sharing their memories of teachers or teaching. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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What do you think ?
Night Owl
Community Member
2 months ago (edited)

This kind of teacher deserves respect. Sharing a bad experience and turning it into a lesson about equality, love and acceptance with further generations and reminding them (and himself) constantly with a simple symbol

Uncle Bud
Community Member
1 month ago

This a an awesome story. Bravo to this teacher. I have never understood racism. Perhaps it's because for my first 3 years of school, I attended a predominantly African-American school. I wasn't the only white kid there but I was the only white kid in my classes all 3 years. I'm really happy that I had this experience as a child. For the last 12 years I've raised my biracial great-niece she was a baby. She is the love of my life. I don't know if we'll every completely see an end to racism but I sure hope we do.

Steak lover
Community Member
1 month ago

That's a great post. Thank you!

Load More Replies...
Cynthia Moore
Community Member
2 months ago

This is why Teachers were my Heroes growing up. The Good Ones Are PRICELESS. They Are Social Engineers, working for Righteousness.

Load More Comments
Night Owl
Community Member
2 months ago (edited)

This kind of teacher deserves respect. Sharing a bad experience and turning it into a lesson about equality, love and acceptance with further generations and reminding them (and himself) constantly with a simple symbol

Uncle Bud
Community Member
1 month ago

This a an awesome story. Bravo to this teacher. I have never understood racism. Perhaps it's because for my first 3 years of school, I attended a predominantly African-American school. I wasn't the only white kid there but I was the only white kid in my classes all 3 years. I'm really happy that I had this experience as a child. For the last 12 years I've raised my biracial great-niece she was a baby. She is the love of my life. I don't know if we'll every completely see an end to racism but I sure hope we do.

Steak lover
Community Member
1 month ago

That's a great post. Thank you!

Load More Replies...
Cynthia Moore
Community Member
2 months ago

This is why Teachers were my Heroes growing up. The Good Ones Are PRICELESS. They Are Social Engineers, working for Righteousness.

Load More Comments
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