Purging the Teacher Desk

I am one month in to my seventh year of teaching.  I'm astonished and amazed at how time has flown by.  In my efforts to live above mediocrity and avoid being stagnant (personally and professionally) I decided to challenge myself this year by getting rid of my teacher desk.  This journey began for me by challenging myself to stand at my desk if I was going to be at my desk.  So last year, I bought a tabletop podium to raise the surface level of my desk when I was behind it.  But this wasn't enough for me because I have never forgot hearing one of my administrators give an accolade to another teacher in my first day of meetings at Noblesville High School in which he suggested that one of the marks of an exceptional educator is whether or not they have a teacher desk.  At that point in time, I couldn't fathom not having a place to organize my belongings, papers, files, etc.  But two years into being at a school that is 1:1 with iPads, I found my need and use of paper greatly diminished.  Not only that, but I was finding comfort in my space behind the teacher desk.  Even when I had small groups of students come sit with me around my bulky, L-shaped desk, I found it obtrusive and like a blockade between me and the students, a "me-versus-them" situation.  That sort of situation is exactly what I want to avoid as a teacher.  If I am committed to creating a learning environment where I learn with the students, and we think together, a dichotomous existence with my students cannot be.  Lastly, I feel strongly about not permitting opt-outs in my classroom.  In other words, when I ask a student a question or ask them to share their thoughts, saying "I don't know" can never be a permissible answer.  If my students truly don't know, then my job as the facilitator in the class should be to scaffold questions that allow them to arrive at the answer until they are able to master the skill, concept, and/or thought process on their own.  If I believe that is important regarding answering questions, I need to also believe it is important with regard to how my students spend their time in class.  This requires constant movement and redirecting students when needed.  So I decided to commit to this choice and ask for my teacher desk to be removed over the summer.  I replaced my teacher desk with a rolling podium that holds my computer and/or iPad when needed and allows me to move it with me as a circulate around the classroom.

Reflectively evaluating the results of this choice one month in, I could not be happier with my decision.  For one, it opened up a significant amount of extra space in my classroom.  I adjusted the location of my student tables making my classroom even more student centered.  I almost never sit when I teach, which allows me to have a greater sense of where all of my students are physically and educationally.  I am more awake and alert when I teach because my body almost never enjoys a resting position.  And best of all, I can pull my chair right up to my students' tables and sit with them.  There is a stronger sense of community with my students, and I have a better sense of where each of my students is academically because I am constantly walking by them, sitting with them, and engaging with them.  My students have commented on the absence of a teacher's desk, too.  They've noticed that its much more difficult to be off-task because I am all over the place looking over their shoulder.  One student commented that it is easier to ask questions because they can ask quietly as I make my rounds.  My evaluators have quantified the number of rounds I make in a block and commented on how proximity alone works to redirect off-task students or quiet collective volume.  In many ways, eliminating a teacher desk from the room has made my job easier without necessitating extra prep.  It is a choice I am very glad I made, and wish I would've made sooner in my teaching career.  I challenge others to consider the space and place of your own classrooms and what physical obstructions limit the kind of class culture you want to foster and the community you want to create.