Teacher leaves 1 chair empty in his classroom for 52 years so kids learn powerful lesson

The chair is not because a student is absent or that they’re expecting a school official to observe their class. It is there to teach a lesson Dan has been teaching for decades, inspired by a real-life situation when he was only nine. Let’s take it back to the mid-50s.

Dan Gill and his friend Archie Shaw went to their friend’s birthday party with presents in their hands. They knocked on the door, and their friend’s mother greeted them. She let Dan in, but not Archie saying, “there were no chairs left.” Confused, Dan said he could sit on the floor so Archie could have his chair. The mother insisted Dan didn’t understand that there were no more seats for his friend So, the two left, crying. This memory stayed with Dan until now. You see, that was the 1950s, and it was the height of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Civil Rights Movement.

Dan left with Archie when he realized what was happening; Archie was denied entry and an opportunity because of his race. He took that lesson to heart, especially when he became a teacher.Each year, he taught students lessons about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, symbolized by an empty chair.
“I wanted to connect the students in a personal way to what that meant,” Mr. Dan Gill told TODAY Parents. “We need to be a class of opportunity. Archie was denied the opportunity to go to the birthday party because of a bias the woman had,” he added.

He took that lesson wherever he went, even when he transferred from New York City to Montclair, New Jersey to Glenfield Middle School, where he teaches today Dan said that teaching the lesson in that symbol was an effective tool for retention. He learned how children understand things better when there’s a symbol that reminds them of the lesson.

The chair was a reminder that no matter their age, they – as individuals or a class – can do better in whatever aspect of their lives. It was also a reminder that making people feel welcome can make this world a better place to live. He also noted how his students had owned the narrative of the empty chair. Dan was proud to say that whenever someone came into their classroom, his students were willing to explain what the empty chair was for to the guest. It would either be the guest asking the students or the students themselves would ask the guest.

Either way, the empty chair remained an important symbol and lesson.
Mr. Dan Hill has taught this lesson for over 50 years and would still want to spread the word even after he retired through a book. He wrote his story with Archie and presented it in Pitchpalooza, an organization that accepts story pitches every year to give opportunities for writers to tell their stories.

Organizer David Henry Sterry was impressed with Dan’s work.

He lost touch with Archie and only discovered that he had passed away in 2021.

Still, he wanted to reach out to Archie’s daughter, hoping she could be part of this beautiful way of imparting their story to the world.
Step inside Mr. Gill’s classroom and learn more about the empty chair in the video below!

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