Make Your Teacher Desk Redundant

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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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.

Go Desk-Free

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:

1. Barrier

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.

Lead Learner

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.

19 thoughts on “Make Your Teacher Desk Redundant

  1. Couldn’t agree more. When I worked in a school I never say behind a desk (art teachers rarely sit down) so the desk was placed against a wall and just had nice visual things on it, like a mini museum.

  2. Science teacher, completely agree. I have a 1sqft PC bench facing the wall next to the board to register, plug in resources, etc and everything else is usable seating for students. Completely opens up the space. Always approachable as I’m not behind some barrier, I wouldn’t be sat down anyway so I would not use it. My comfy teacher chair lost a leg 18 months ago, swapped it for a stool given how infrequently it is used; if the students are doing a test I can reserve a space at the end of a row, and I will still do a lot of wandering. If I need to do a practical demo I pick a table in the middle and eject the occupants temporarily. Great idea.

  3. Got rid of mine and don’t regret it. Actually more organised with out it and stuff gets put away rather than being dumped on the desk.

  4. Haven’t got one but wish I had one. As a primary teacher who’s 6ft 5 marking at the children’s tiny desks and on their little chairs is killing me back. There is a lot of paper work with the job so having an appropriate space to work at is reasonable. Ask occupational health. I think the bin your desk idea like many things in teaching gets carried away. Suddenly your learning environment is slammed because you have a desk. As long as your not sat there all lesson not working with children what’s the problem. We get these prescriptive rules that if your not following the crowd your performance is slammed. Each to their own. Save a fortune on visits to the chiropractor and get a good desk with an even better chair.

    1. Agree completely! Whilst sitting at the students desks to work may be suitable for secondary / upper key stage 2, it’s not suitable for LKS2 and Infants. Sitting for two hours marking after school at one of the pupil’s desks just is not suitable.

    2. Your employer is obliged to ensure you have an appropriate working area which enables you to complete the tasks commensurate to fulfilling the teacher’s standards. I don’t think you should be doing hours of marking by the way but, if that’s what you need to do, then suitable place should be provided. Simple and essential element of good practice for school leaders under health and daft legislation.

      1. Ha! I wish I had intended the mistake at the end as there has been loads of ‘daft’ legislation!!! Of course, it should read “health and safety legislation”.

    3. I agree. A lot of work is done before and after school. Everywhere else in the classroom is accessible to the children. I think it’s still a necessary part of a classroom’s make up.

  5. Are you suggesting yet another move to take away teachers rights to a comfortable working environment? There IS a division between pupil and teacher.I have always hated some male teachers way of trying to be
    pupils popular pals.Pupils respect the teacher who is not too familiar yet kind and friendly.
    The teacher has rights too.The primary staffroom is no longer a place to chill out -with everyone welcome.The lunch break is non existent.Health and safety rules apply to teachers as well as pupils but are seldom adhered to .No teacher should sit on a chair of child size to do marking and assessment as it would lead to back and hip problems later in life.
    Has this man not heard of falling teacher numbers.?The cause, I suggest isimpossible workload and working conditions and intrusive prescriptive ,so called ideas for improved performance!!

      1. I rarely sit behind my desk. It’s where my laptop lives and where I take the register. It’s where I sit if I have five minutes in a 100 minute lesson to organise the next part (in case I need to change direction) whilst my students work hard – I’m always on hand or wandering the room. It’s where I sit to mark and to enter the deadly data. The desk is my space – it’s where my teaching kit resides: scissors, rulers, pens, my handbag, important folders. It’s a little part of me with walls adorned in lovely work from the students; pics of my family; messages from past pupils (oh, and a picture of Daniel Craig) etc. etc. The students see me there and know something about me – it leads to a chat and we get to know each other. Nothing wrong in a teacher having a little space for themselves in a busy and chaotic school. 🙂

  6. A teacher desk is essential! How can one prepare for 5+ lessons per day with nowhere to put your resources? It is a space for me to work. the rest of the class room is for student work. I often do demonstrations at student desks or at the side of the room, the teacher desk is for resources and our work. I rarely sit down during lessons but if i can i like to have a divide between myself and the students. I give them all my time and energy they don’t need my desk too!

  7. As a new teacher I don’t think I could do without my desk! Not only does it store my stationary and teabags, it also means that I can I have somewhere to plan my lessons, eat my lunch, send important emails and keep my to do list!
    I can understand the arguements against them but I’ve found them to really useful and help a very disorganized person, become an organised teacher.

  8. No desk?????
    So, has a professional educator, to have a somewhat decent place, to plan..think..mark, I should have relied, when I was teaching, on my good old dining room table…in the evenings!!
    Non merci!!

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