Is there a word or a phrase for "a student who sits at the back of the classroom"?
I came across the word "backbencher" in some text but it was written by non-native speakers of English.
I'd like to know what native speakers think.

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    I can't understand why they would be considered "naughty", but that may be a cultural matter. Maybe there aren't any open seats in the front! No opprobrium attaches to students who sit in the rear in The U.S. "Backbencher" in BrE means member of the House of Commons who holds no office and sits behind the front benches; the term would not be used by an English speaker in this context. I've never heard any term for such students. We would call them "Students who sit in the rear." Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 18:45
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    As someone who has worked in higher education for almost two decades, I can attest to fact that the term "back-row students" is sometimes used to describe this phenomena. This is sometimes associated with presumed naughtiness, although most of us have been in the business long enough to know that other reasons for sitting in the back row exist: shyness, social anxiety, farsightedness, or simply personal preference. More examples are in my answer.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 19:16
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    @P.E.Dant - Perhaps it's regional, perhaps it's contextual. Go to any faculty lounge and say, "I've got a few back-row students who aren't turning in their homework on time," and I doubt anyone there will ask you to explain what you mean.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 19:29
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    @J.R. I have a glimmer here: I'll wager that the term wouldn't be recognized as a pejorative by the students themselves, whereas TAs and Profs would get it right off. A term of art, so to speak. Heaven knows that the studentry (see Thurber) have many colorful descriptives for faculty and administration, and many more piquant than back-row. Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 19:32
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    What I want to know is if @Sharaman is literally looking for a phrase for students who sit in the back row, or if the word request is for troublemaking students who stereotypically sit in the back. In the former case, I am not sure any such word exists – "back-row students" doesn't really count any more than any other arbitrary adjective noun combo for any other arbitrary concept as far as I'm concerned – but in the latter case there are probably a bunch of options.
    – cjl750
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 21:41

1 Answer 1


You can use the term back-row students to describe the students that you talk about. Wiktionary has a usage note which says:

The back row of a classroom is associated with delinquent behavior by students wishing to avoid the teacher's attention.

One example of this term being used in this way is from a blog post by a dean of students:

The under-engaged student is perhaps the most elusive types of students you will encounter during your teaching career. When they come to class, they are usually late, sit in the back row, put their headphones in, and their head down. In an online class, they tend to vanish suddenly and quietly, reemerging to take an exam or submit an assignment. These “back row” students present some interesting challenges, but also some of the most rewarding teaching experiences.

Another blogger used this term to describe his own educational experience:

I was a back-row student, surrounded by like-minded souls, snapping gum, sneaking out the back for cigarettes.

It's important to note: not all students who sit in the back row are necessarily "back-row students", and assuming that's the case would be unfair stereotyping. Although the term can refer to students who are more interested in checking their Facebook page than listening to their instructor, sometimes the reference isn't so negative. For example, a book about online learning talks more about shyness than delinquency:

The online learning environment removes the social pressure and anxiety from classroom interactions. On the online discussion board, it is almost impossible to distinguish the shy “back row” students from the talkative “front row” students.

The ramifications of seating placement is a topic of study in academia. One research paper said:

Since students voluntarily choose their seating location on the first day of the course, this may indicate that back-row students begin the semester with a lack of initiative to interact or with a generalized lack of confidence in their abilities.

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