Friday, August 7, 2015

The Great Desk Debate

Desk Shaming...

Okay, no one I know is doing any shaming, but that got your attention, didn’t it?

Lately, I keep seeing teachers enthusiastically posting about ridding their rooms of a teacher desk. I have also seen other educators dig deeper into the issue, including this tweet from @JessLif, who I recently starting following and who I’ve quickly come to respect. (I tend to over-analyze and look for root causes, so I appreciated this nugget.)

Strangely, several educators I follow and also respect have made the leap into no-desk land (how often do you like and respect people on BOTH sides of an issue?!). I know they are not in the “bad teacher” camp, so naturally, I began pondering the issue and wondering if I, too, should jump on board.

**Disclaimer: I hope this doesn’t offend the free-wheeling teachers who’ve abandoned their desks. I know several of them—my reasons do not apply to them. They rock! These reasons are totally my own.

Now, my decision: No, I will not be “desk-free.” If you care, let me tell you why…

1. Storage: I use my desk to neatly and discreetly store items such as band-aids, pads/tampons, cough drops, snacks for me (or students who need food), private files, notes from former students (I really need to scrapbook), and the various accouterments I seem to still need even though I’m mostly paperless. I like having a place for my favorite scissors and stapler (yes, I’m a dork), my stash of awesome big paper clips and binder clips, rubber bands, my different colored pens for grading…well, you get the idea. I could get a table to store all my delicious clutter, but isn’t that the same as a teacher’s desk? Plus, I’d rather have the dishabille tucked away. I have enough other items littering my space (the private hell of an ELA teacher).

2. Freedom: this seems to be the number one issue of The Great Desk Debate, whether or not a teacher is chained to a desk if one happens to be in the room. This argument seems indicative of how the general public (mostly politicians) does not view us as professionals. If I am an effective teacher, you could put a massage chair and a footbath in my room—I’m still going to walk around and interact with my students. Conversely, if I am ineffective/lazy/”bad,” you could take away all my comforts (like the slightly broken desk chair or the desk with the wonky drawers that get stuck and only Hercules can pry open), have an administrator follow me with a cattle prod or a whip so I walk around my room…and I would still find a way to not fully educate my students. If you are an effective teacher, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse won’t stop you from educating all of your students. If you aren’t, well those Horsemen can’t force you give a damn.

3.  Health: I was diagnosed with Crohn’s in August 2004. After spending time in the hospital, I began teaching full-time in November 2004. It’s pretty much in remission, but I was diagnosed with lupus in February 2014. Yet, despite the health issues, I know I was born to teach. I fight with everything in me, but there are days I feel like complete crap. I try to only miss school if I’m throwing up; not much else keeps me from my students. That doesn’t make me a hero or a martyr. My students deserve my best. I could call in for a sub more often, but, even on my bad days, I know I can have more influence than a sub showing a movie (Be honest, that’s what most of them do. That’s okay—they aren’t paid to teach) because I’ve built up a rapport. Even though I hate admitting my limitations, there are days when being able to sit at a desk and lay my head down for the brief lunch period, or the few minutes between classes, gives me enough of a boost to keep giving my all for my students. There are also days I’m emotionally drained from discussion or from dramatically reading a piece of literature or from listening to the issues my students face, and I need a moment behind my desk to center myself. Yes, I sometimes take moments for myself. I’m an introvert, so sue me. J

4. Prop: Yes, sometimes I’m guilty of performing for my students. I had years of drama and have been in several plays and musicals. Nothing too crazy (no costumes or lighting…sometimes music…definitely voices and inflection), but I have that luxury in ELA. Literature is beautiful on the page, but that beauty comes to life and can become mesmerizing, engrossing, life changing when read aloud and with feeling. I read out loud to my students—all the time. I let them take parts for plays because I’m good, but I’m not ready to do an entire Shakespeare play on my own; however, I read everything else to them if they agree to it. I’ve memorized parts of “The Raven” and start reciting it as I lean back in my desk chair with my feet propped on my desk. I put my head in my hand and start reciting it. Freaks out my students. I also like to sit on my desk and “casually” discuss important issues. That’s especially fun when I play devil’s advocate. I also use my desk and podium as I give a rousing read of Patrick Henry’s “Second Speech to the Virginia Convention.” I like to emphatically pound on my podium or desk as I deliver Edward’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” For now, I like my prop.

Once again, let me reassure you I am not shaming anyone who disposes of his/her desk or anyone who keeps the desk. These are my reasons for keeping my desk. Now, go ponder this issue for yourself. Reflection is healthy for the soul.


  1. Thanks for the counter perspective to so many edu articles floating around. As a music teacher, I rarely had a desk when working with Elem. Ss. As a HS Music Appreciation teacher, I have loads of documents littering my desk in prep for each class. I too use my desk as a prop.
    One teacher in my school went "deskless" last year, but it seemed only to be a trade for a drawerless table and a much greater mess (storage is an important thing to me).

    1. My desk is always messy, but if I didn't have it, the mess would land somewhere else. :-)