I’ll Keep My Desk but I’ll Change Other Things

A hot topic for discussion of late on some of the blogs I read is how some teachers are sending their desks to the netherworld of the hall, or perhaps the recesses of the basement or the welcoming arms of a colleague. They are sending their desks out of the room and out of their use. In many ways, such a bold statement is a powerful symbol of classroom equality and facilitated learning. This is based on the premise that sans the imposing teacher’s desk, students will be less intimidated by the teacher and together they can work to make magic. Poof! The desk goes and presto change-o.

Hey, I get it. It sounds like a great idea. I like it, and I like the meaning behind it. Plus, at the very least, getting rid of a teacher’s desk saves space (and what teacher can’t do without more space?)

Only problem is, I’m not ready to make that kind of statement.

I do want to surrender some of the control and power, though. Yes, I want this to be a year in which I maybe, just maybe, speak less and listen more. I want to begin developing a truly student-centered classroom the best I can. I just feel I’d be lost without a desk. Where else would I find an open drawer in which to lean my lunch? How would I ever replace the surface area that holds so many paper clips, pens, folders, books, and papers? WHERE WOULD I KEEP MY PILES? Tell me, where would I keep my piles?

No, I can’t do it. But there are several things I’m hoping to get going in my classroom that do foster independence and investment. Maybe they’re not quite as obvious as dragging a desk out the door, but they are important nonetheless. Here are some of my ideas:

  • Try to shed the “what’s mine is mine” mentality. I can’t imagine how many times I have said something like, “This is MY pencil. Make sure I get it back” or “Why should I give you MY scissors? Where are YOUR scissors?” Oh get over myself, I say. Who am I to stand in the way of a kid who is trying to do well? Yes, I want the kids to learn responsibility and not be dependent on others, but I also am beginning to think that if I check my ego at the door, the kids will benefit. So, I’m thinking of community supplies – containers of pencils, crayons, maybe even pens! Markers galore, both fat and thin (even though my kids know how much I hate markers!) Glue for you, and glue for me! Who needs scissors? I GOT SCISSORS! Hmm, could I do that in place of personal supplies? I wonder. I mean, I probably still have about 200 pencils from my first year of teaching when they were a penny a package at Staples. Right now I can only see this being a good idea because it’ll foster a safe place where no one has the possibility of being unprepared.
  • Establish a Digital Documentation Center. Ooh, I like that name. May have to run with it. My room is teensy weensy small, so I have to figure out how such a thing could even exist, but here’s what I envision. I’ve got 10 digital cameras and a Flip camcorder (and I may add a few to my collection by school’s start). I imagine a space in the classroom where students can go retrieve a camera of their own volition and document their work and the exciting things we do in our class. Ideally, they then find the time in the day to upload their photos or videos onto a computer. Hey, maybe they even realize when batteries are dying and take the appropriate steps to recharge them. I don’t know about you, but to me this sounds like a heavenly arrangement. (This will also tie in nicely with any science work we do – I kinda sorta really wanna have a compost bin, worms and all, in the classroom! There is so much to document with something like that!)
  • Establish a readily available high-interest collection of reading materials. As a fresh-faced first semester graduate student, I was bewildered when a professor explained that, in balanced literacy, students are encouraged only to read on their own level. I incredulously asked the professor, “So are you saying that if a child wants to read any other book, we should say, ‘No, you can’t read that’?'” She said that would be appropriate. Well, I didn’t understand that nearly six years ago and I still don’t today. Sorry, but I can’t wrap my head around denying the privilege of reading to a child who wants to. Thankfully, my administration supports giving kids opportunities to explore texts beyond their comfort zones. That’s why, as I was going through my materials to prepare to bring back in a couple of weeks, I paused before throwing the kids’ science and sports magazines in a box for some other class, some other time. Sure they’re way above my students’ levels, but it is my hope that keeping them accessible will spark some kind of interest – even if all they can do is look at the pictures. This is a way I am assigning responsibility to the student, rather than me dictating what is acceptable material for them. Of course, I will still work with students on their levels and help them improve, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time for some high-interest choice time, too.
  • Establish and encourage participation in a class blog. I started this on a whim two years ago with my fifth graders using Edmodo. A colleague and I joined forces to teach how to use it, and the kids loved it, but there was minimal direction on it. Sure, I put up videos of me reading books, left them some optional writing assignments, and posted discussion-provoking questions, but that stuff wasn’t really planned, it just kind of…was. (More on my students and Edmodo here). This year, we’re going to start with Kidblog – mind you, in a third grade classroom with students reading well below grade level. My, what a challenge. My hope is that blogging will encourage growth in writing and self-expression. I’m also excited to have to teach some computer skills to my students. To me, blogging can be a phenomenal thing in my class this year. It is truly one of the initiatives I am most excited for. There is still much to sort through: how to make use of only four computers, how to schedule students’ time to blog, how to work around many kids not having internet at home. Oh, and how to get around the whole trouble reading thing. But hey, we’re going to figure it out. So pumped.
  • Establish a more seamless inclusion of web technology in the classroom. Whether it be with games, reading sites or places like Wallwisher, I want to take the wonderful resources I’ve culled from my PLN this summer and bring them to my classroom, so that they become the expectation, not the exception. This is part of meeting kids where they are. Our kids today love technology. (Today I’m even telling myself I need to get a case for my phone so we can use it in school. Also need to buy a new battery for my laptop or else they can’t carry it around without it croaking after 15 minutes).

I need to remember that these things take time and require teaching and reteaching. Too often, my goal is to get it all going right away, but it can’t happen that way. It’s too much for the kids to internalize. They’ll feel overwhelmed and the crucial building blocks of trust between me and them and between them and these new experiences will never be set.

However, once they do internalize all the possibilities available to them in their new forward-thinking classroom from their suddenly awakened teacher, I think they can begin to foster some independence and self-direction.

And hey, maybe some of them will even do it while sitting at my desk.

21 responses to “I’ll Keep My Desk but I’ll Change Other Things

  1. Great post! This has really got me thinking as I am rearranging my classroom tomorrow ready for the new term. I love the idea of the Digital Documentation Centre, although I’m not sure I can use that name!!!!

  2. Where exactly is your desk in your classroom? If it’s dead and centre in front of the class, you could always consider moving it more to the side. That could also give off a less ‘controlling’ vibe, lots of teachers at my school do it this way.

  3. About getting stationery back, I sometimes say “My grandma gave me that pen, so look after it!” as a joke as I hand it over. Usually get stuff back, unchewed!

  4. Keep the desk…even if it’s only for a place to keep your piles!
    Also, to let you know I added your blog to my links. I am looking for a teaching job myself and have a bunch of friends who would love your blog. Hope that’s okay!

  5. Great post. I like your ideas. I am considering getting a laptop table so that I can be out front, yet near my tools. We have SMART boards at our school and much is taught through technology; therefore, I need the laptop. Right now we have a big ugly cart that hides me when I am using the laptop. By getting a smaller table, I’ll be more accessable and visable. I have class supplies as well as having the kids have their own. I find it very useful. It’s always great when that glue stick dries out or the papers need stapling. Good luck in this next year.

  6. With so many schools going to iPads and apps such as drop box, you really don’t need a desk … I would however need a couch (if you are going to use the iPad, might as well sit somewhere cozy). Just kidding.

  7. Pingback: Remainders: Imagining Chancellor Weingarten & UFT Prez Klein | GothamSchools

  8. Pingback: Online Education in America » Blog Archive » Remainders: Imagining Chancellor Weingarten & UFT Prez Klein

  9. Classrooms are not “everyone’s equal” places. They are, and should be, evolving away from the teacher-as-dictator model, but there is a real power differential (because there is a real responsibility differential) in classrooms, and it’s not a bad thing if the teacher has extra tools (including a desk) to help him/her discharge those responsibilities. To me, what is more important is how the teacher uses the desk. If s/he sits behind it and talks nonstop, that’s bad teaching. If s/he either sits at the desk, or stands near some other teaching tool, or moves around the room to accomplish an instructional goal or to establish contact with the students, that’s good use of the desk. And, I might add, I learned plenty from some teachers who did the “sit at the desk” routine, and not much from a few who wandered around the room but did not really teach.

    • Well made points, thanks for contributing them to the dialogue. My experience with desk bound teachers vs. happy feet teachers is the same, but given the amount of small group work and conferencing that happens in today’s classroom, the desk bound teacher is becoming obsolete.

  10. When I was an educational assistant, I used to joke that teachers were so territiorial I was surprised that they didn’t pee around their desks. At least, I thought it was funny!
    Sometimes there are things that you need to identify as being yours, and keeping them on or in your desk sends that message. As well as feeling ownership in the classroom, kids still need to learn how to respect other people’s belongings, and many of them haven’t had enough practice at that.
    Supplying pencils is good, but you may want to have a one pencil per student rule, which means that kids have to check to see if they already have a pencil before getting another one. I couldn’t figure out where all the pencils were going so fast until I found a lot of my kids were stashing 5 or more pencils in their desks or pencil cases. Also rotate the job of keeping the pencils sharpened at recess. It cuts down on unnecessary noise if the pencils are sharp and ready. Kids would sharpen their pencils just to get out of their seats, and it drove me bonkers!

    • Kids are always looking for a reason to get out of their seats, and I can’t say I blame them. I think the way I envision it is pencils supplied at different parts of the room. You use it when you go there, you leave it when you finish, and there you have it. We’ll see – this is something that has to evolve based on how the kids go about it.

  11. I’m with you 100%! This morning I had the custodians (my BFFs), move my desk from the corner in which I had barricaded myself last year (surrounded by bookcases and drawers) to a nice open airy spot by my back door (yes, I have a back door), because I too need a place for my piles. Now on the subject of MY STUFF – wow! Never thought of it that way. You mean I actually have to share MY STUFF with the kids? I actually shuddered when I read that part. Let them use my fabulous titanium scissors? But I see your point and maybe I need to follow the advice I give my kids – if you don’t want to share it, don’t bring it to school! I’ll let you know how it goes. Also interested to follow your adventures on Kidsblog – I want to start that with my 4th grade this year.

    • A back door? Wow…that sounds positively like a palace. I look forward to hearing how it works out with the sharing. By the way, I’ve never done blogging with kids before. I was inspired by Pernille, who blogs at mrspripp.blogspot.com . You must read and follow her!!

  12. I’m ready to start blogging with my fourth graders this year. We are so pumped up about it! There’s a great lesson on how to teach blogging on McTeach ( I think). Basically, it involves a piece of written work and the kids use sticky notes to “post comments” about the paper “Blog”. It’s good practice and teaches the necessary skills. I plan on having my students take paper “blog posts” to the computer lab once per week to enter there. If more time is needed, we’ll sign out our school’s laptop cart because we only have two computers in our classroom. I am concerned about how to fit in the time for blogging, but the excitement about the possibilities blogging opens up are much more compelling than my worries about scheduling.

    Good Luck!

  13. Pingback: This Year’s Classroom: A Field of Dreams « From the Desk of Mr. Foteah

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