Should we ditch our own desks?
In a recent post, James Manwaring urged us to think about getting rid of our classroom desks. I can see a few positives in doing this but there is one desk that sits in the classroom that we also need to think about ditching – the teacher’s desk.
The teacher’s desk sits like a lump of lard in every classroom and we really need to question what purpose it actually serves.
The teacher’s desk is mostly a dumping ground in many classrooms and certainly takes up a lot of valuable space in the process. Sometimes a classroom desk plan actually revolves around the teacher’s desk because it takes up so much room.
Does an agile learning space really need one?
I don’t think so. Over the years I have tried pushing my desk to the side in order to make better use of the limited classroom floor space but even doing this, it just gets in the way. Then I questioned why any of us actually needs a desk when we have a classroom full of them.
I seldom sit at my desk in the day and if I do it tends to be at the end of the day to do some marking but what’s the point of that when I could use a student’s desk instead? Some argue that that the teacher’s desk is a waste of space and the teacher should never be sitting down anyway or ‘desk teaching’.
Some classrooms are equipped with monolithic teacher desks that quite frankly do nothing but impose unnecessary bulk into what should be the children’s learning space. Who is the room supposed to be designed for?
Buy A Saw
Okay, drastic action and your school would soon have something to say if you did saw your desk to pieces for firewood but desks are an eye-sore that don’t fit the way we teach anymore. Is a teacher sat at a desk supporting learners? I don’t think so. Who gets time to sit down anyway? Teacher desks should be made redundant and there are a few reasons to consider why:
A teacher’s desk is a huge barrier between a teacher and a pupil and for some children quite an intimidating one to approach. The desk stands for authority and has a status that doesn’t bridge learning but acts as an obstacle to support – it’s a marker of power.
If you are the sit at the desk type then children come to you but certainly not all. Children aren’t ‘visitors’ so child-centred learning and teacher desks don’t really go together. The teacher desk can also be an off-limits no go zone for territorial teachers who protect their personal space. A classroom is a shared space and getting rid of the desk make for a more equal classroom. No one wants scared, cautious or embarrassed students – but a piece of furniture can have that effect so why not erase one of the pillars of inequity?
2. Physical Space
Space is at a premium in a classroom. If you get rid of your desk then you might be surprised just how much space it actually took up and what space you now have to play with. This makes it easier to spread out your classroom desks and give children more space – some classrooms children are literally crammed in like sardines. This makes the learning space more comfortable and not on top of each other and this has a remarkably powerful effect.
3. Mental Space
The teacher’s desk takes up a lot of mental space too – it’s another thing to attend to. No desk, no clutter. It also means that there is a shared sense of ownership throughout the class as “our room” rather than “Miss Carr’s room”. A shared classroom is hard to have with a four-legged monster piled high with marking, worksheets, planners and a dead plant – that’s too much to look at!
4. Active Teaching
There is little doubt that getting shot of your desk means you will do more miles because you are constantly on the move. If you worry about not exercising enough then don’t because your FitBit will be exploding fireworks like New Year’s Eve without a desk. Walkabout teaching doesn’t mean you can’t sit down though – just sit with the students. Not being at your desk is also better for behaviour. As Harry and Rosemary Wong say in their book, The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher,
A teacher’s problems are directly proportional to the amount of distance between the teacher and the students.
Ditching the desk won’t be for everyone but it can lead to a much stronger classroom environment. If you are precious about your desk then consider what message it sends to pupils. Untethering yourself from a desk opens up the learning and as lead learner you can make more observations, interact more and provide more verbal feedback.