Important Reason Why A Teacher Has Kept An Empty Chair In His Class For 52 Years

A teacher has kept an empty chair in his class for 52 years, and for a very important, symbolic reason and life lesson.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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An empty chair can serve as an important symbol. Oftentimes, it is used to draw attention to someone who once sat in that chair, or in the instance of a beloved, longstanding teacher, it acts as an important reminder of a person who was never given the chance to sit in a chair, from a time not that far off from now. Many social justice critics argue that racism is dead in America, reminding those fighting for it that slavery and segregation are now just stories long in the past. But to Daniel Gill, a middle school teacher who has kept an empty chair in his classroom for his entire 52 years of teaching, segregation and racial injustice were alive and well, not that long ago. 

Daniel Gill just finished his 52nd year of teaching at Glenfield Middle School in Montclair, New Jersey. Since it’s rare to see any employee across any profession staying at the same job for that long, it is quite telling just how much this educator loves his job, and how much his students and peers adore him right back. Now that Gill has likely seen students, and their children come through his class door, one thing tends to stick as a reminder of how empathetic this teacher can be, and that is seen through the empty chair that has been kept in his class through his entire career.

The empty chair isn’t placed this way for what some might think, as in serving as a time-out area. Instead, it aids in an important life lesson Gill uses to teach students each and every year about bias in America. It all stems back to Gill’s childhood. When the middle school teacher was just nine years old, he had a Black friend named Archie. The two went to a peer’s birthday party together. But when they arrived at the doors, the birthday boy’s mother would not let the Black friend in. She told Gil he was allowed to come in, but turned to Archie and told him there were no more chairs.

After seeing how this hateful act humiliated his best friend, the memory is now embedded into Gill’s brain. Because of that, he has turned it into a positive reinforcement to guide him in how he runs his classroom. Talking with ABC7 NY News, the tenured teacher said that he uses the empty chair to remind children that there is “room for everyone.” 

This heartwarming story focused around an empty chair is a much-needed reminder during contentious fights about diversity, equity, and inclusion in school that the scars of segregation are still felt and remembered by people living today. Many of them, like Gill, are still in the school system. Black children weren’t allowed to attend the same schools as whites until just 68 years ago. What’s more, most of the schools across America weren’t fully integrated with mixed races until years, if not decades, later. To many, the pushback on efforts looking to further equity acts as a punch in the gut, especially for people like Gill who try to teach empathy with a simple, empty chair. 

empty chair

After his long stretch in middle school, the 75-year-old  plans on retiring after next year. He may have left earlier, but he had made a previous commitment to stay in the school with his prior sixth-grade students throughout their time in the middle school. Many hope that the school will leave the empty chair in the class even after Gill leaves. As for the teacher leaving the school halls behind him, Gill plans to spend his time working on a book he will call No More Chairs – which he will dedicate to his friend Archie who passed away last year.