The desk was covered with papers that needed graded. The desk calendar displayed August 2015, but it was already October. A binder labeled, “Teacher Binder 2015-2016”, sat on the edge of the desk and looks like it hasn’t been touched for weeks. The computer displayed an email inbox with 34 unread emails many from teachers who let their class out late or reminders about paperwork that was due.
This is what a story would sound like if part of it included a description of the desk in my classroom before the 2016-2017 school year. My desk was a trap. It was able to draw me in close and I’d see that one email I could respond to in the 4 minutes between class periods, and then…BAM! I was sitting down at the desk putting a barrier between the students who were coming into my classroom and focusing my attention on something so meaningless compared to the 25 kids who I would spend the next 48 minutes with.
Not anymore though! Before that school year started I got rid of the “teacher” desk in my classroom, and redesigned my whole classroom layout (check out my classroom redesign blog post). It could be one of the biggest changes I have made in my 4 short years teaching, and here’s why!
I’m more organized!
Since I don’t have a desk and place to make piles that I can go through later, I had to develop a system to keep everything organized. I have a file folder box where students turn stuff in or keep things they’ll need everyday in class. I have a small wire shelving unit that holds pens, styluses, the phone, and other “essentials”. It has forced me to find a place for items (rather than just throwing it on my desk and spending a half hour going through it all later) and a place where I can quickly access what I need.
I’m interacting with my students more!
Without the barrier that was my desk in the room, I’m interacting with my students more. I felt that I interacted with them a lot (before and during class) prior to the removal of my desk, but I’m doing that even more now. I get out into the hallway between classes more. I sit and have conversations with individual students about their day or weekend, or talk to groups of students about how the school year is going. I can take pictures and tweet about all the cool things that are happening in our classroom. This was probably the most unexpected benefit of not having a desk.
I’m more accountable to myself and my students!
Many of us would rather be interacting with students or doing something more meaningful between classes or during class. It’s so easy to get sucked into that one email or fixing that one typo on your worksheet for tomorrow. The way I have things set up now, the 2-drawer filing cabinet that serves as my laptop stand, faces out toward the class. So, anyone can see my screen at any time. So, if I decide to read that email or reply to one, all of the students (if they look over) will see what I am doing. Now, some of them may not think twice about it, but I know others want to talk to their teacher or just have someone talk to them at school (that’s a whole other post). Now, I can always move my computer, but I try to leave it there in between classes and during classes when I have students to keep myself accountable.
Now, I will say it wasn’t an easy transition. It took me a while to get it all figured out. My systems aren’t perfect and I find myself going through my day and realizing something I could do differently to make my life easier. At first, I also struggled to not “create” a desk at one of the lab tables or at one of the other tables in my room. I want to be 100% desk free, and it’s working! It’s a really freeing thing, and trust me the benefits of not having it heavily outweigh the costs of not having it.