Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Where I say Goodbye to an Old Friend; My Desk

Today I decided to get rid of my teacher desk.   Felling like a rebel, feeling a little brave, put the door it went to some other wanting teacher.  And yes, while this may seem spur of the moment it is something I have been pondering for about a year now pushing it away whenever the thought crossed me. You see, I love my desk. To me it signifies being a teacher; sitting behind the desk, grading papers, surveying the room, feeling powerful. All things I used to take such pride in, particularly the grading of papers, and now that doesn't seem to be me anymore.  Now I don't take pride in grades but rather in the conversations I have with my students surrounding their work.  Now I love being away from my desk, preferably on the floor or next to a student working. Now I don't feel powerful in an authoritarian way but rather in a "knowledge is power" type of way.

And yet that desk was my anchor. My teacher space, sacred to me and a no-no for the kids.  Whenever I needed to retreat I scurried behind it, setting up my barrier. Whenever I needed to signal to the kids that I needed some space, there I was sitting in my chair working. The wall was up, the kids knew it and I was safe.  The chair was too comfortable, the desk had too much space for piles, and the kids didn't like to approach me whenever I sat behind it. And yet it beckoned for me, drew me to it almost like a magnet; come sit, come relax, come work. And so I did, finding myself nestled in its power, in its comfort over and over, when I should have been on the floor next to those kids. When I should have been out in the room walking, working, learning. Now don't think I sat behind it teaching, just shouting out instructions, I never did, but I pulled kids behind it for one-on-one time. I had kids come there for help, for learning, and it didn't work. They immediately felt the power of the desk and were not able to relax. They knew they were in my space, not theirs, and so their guard was up when I needed it to be down. The desk had too much power.

So today I say goodbye to the beacon of my teacher strength. I cleaned out all the drawers, emptied the files and wiped it down one last time. The remarkable thing was all the stuff I found in it that I didn't even know I had; 13 white out's, reward certificates, and numerous empty files. Apparently my so essential piece had become rather nonessential in its true purpose. I was nervous sure, I still am, but at the same time I knew it was time to say goodbye. I don't want our classroom to be their space versus my space. I want it to be all of our space. I want the kids to feel they can approach me wherever I sit. I want them to have room to sprawl out on the floor, I want to sit with them as we learn together. I have said before that we were on this learning journey together; now we truly are.  So farewell dear friend, you have served me well but now we have grown apart.

For more inspiration to give up your desk, please read this posts - they inspired me.

Russ Goerend's Post on going desk less.

John T Spencer's Post on how he was wrong.


Rick Thomas said...

I really like your post. I still have my desk. Yes it has become a catch all for a lot of things I think I may need. I think my students sit at my desk more then I do. I allow students to do research on the desk top computer. I have often thought about removing my desk also : )

melvin said...

Yea! I inherited my classroom 28 days before the end of school and kept the same layout going into the new school year. During Christmas (can I say that here?) break I threw out my desk. Never mentioned it and carried on with the new openness. The tone brought our learning to a whole new level. One of the many times my mind has been blown learning in the classroom with great students.

Chris Francik said...

I couldn't agree more. I got rid of my desk this summer. So many people comment about my lack of a desk. I have a small (tiny) table for my essentials. Beyond that, nothing. My fellow colleagues don't get it. I already like the arrangement. Much more space in the room remains and my students are in clusters. No more rows for me. Just another step in the change that is becoming this school year.

Wm Chamberlain said...

I went to a standing desk sometime last year in my computer lab. I can't exactly go without because I need a place for the computer. I do find that I spend more time walking around the classroom now.

Through an act of fate (my lab used to be a vo-tech room that needed a locked area) I have an "office". I do have a desk in it, but I don't sit in there when I have students. It helps me have a place to myself that I sometimes feel necessary when I get a bit overwhelmed.

I will be going completely deskless for half of my classes this year since I am co-teaching three science classes. I guess I will get some first hand knowledge of why you chose to do so.

Mrs Ripp aka @pernilleripp said...

It seems to be a movement happening here of giving up our classrooms and allowing the students more space. I still have a computer table in my classroom that has a little bit of space next to it for my lesson planner and yet the energy has changed in my room. It is bigger, more free and less imposing. Even my returning students will be surprised!

Anonymous said...

ooh how cutsey, and more young teachers are doing this, it's the latest democratic American way of showing your students and convincing yourself you are all equals. But are you really? Give me a break. Why should you be? Didn't you go to college for x number of years so you could get your degree? So keep your desk, and your dignity. You are empowered, so what if they know it. With all the people trying to attack teachers at every turn, if you don't respect yourself and try to play it cute, no one will respect you or your profession

Wm Chamberlain said...

Anonymous, funny you would write about respect when you are showing none (and by funny I mean really, really sad.) Maybe after you attend school for x number of years you will learn how to be respectful...

Mrs Ripp aka @pernilleripp said...

Anonymous - wow, I am going to leave that comment up just because you make such a fool out of yourself. You obviously know nothing about me or my classroom so perhaps this blog isn't for you.

Maureen Devlin said...

I too am going desk-less. I already set up the room and it's much more spacious. Most of our "think-work" happens on our own time (often at home), and the classroom is really the place for "performance" work--we're generally sharing the space with many children. Thanks for posting.

Lorraine said...

I am going 1/2 deskless this year. My desk was a 2 parter and I decided to remove the largest part and keep the smaller one - I did it just today and it made a world of difference! I actually have room for 2 more bookshelves for about 50 new books for my classroom! Great idea and thanks for all your posts - I appreciate your posts always. They really make me think!

Anonymous said...

@Mrs. Ripp, regarding your response to the Anonymous post . . . So if someone doesn't agree with you, they clearly don't belong here, reading your blog? That's a great way to encourage an exchange of ideas.

@Wm Chamberlain . . . your answer to the same anonymous post indicates that you think s/he is a student who "attends" school, rather than the more logical inference that s/he is a teacher who has been around for quite a while.

After 20 or 25 years in a classroom, I wonder if you'll still feel that the children are your equals. I do believe that children should feel generally comfortable talking to a teacher, but I also think that 10 year olds that feel they are equal to even the youngest teachers are part of the problem in education, and indeed, in society in general.

@JeremyInscho said...

@ Pernille,
Congratulations on taking a brave step closer to what you (and many others) feel is best for your students. I'm not sure I'm quite there yet, but I'll be sure to make sure the desk is off in a corner if I do decide to keep it. Isn't it funny that I have no hesitation saying no to homework, worksheets and grading this year while saying yes to BYOD, choice, PBL etc, but I balk at getting rid of the desk? Perhaps it's just too much change all at one (I'm starting at a new school in a nearby town too).

It's unfortunate that your first post came across as condescending and demeaning, as you may well have meaningful input into the conversation from a viewpoint much different than many of Pernille's readers. From your experience, what direction do you feel education needs to go to elicit engagement and higher-order learning from today's students? Please post here or @JeremyInscho on Twitter. Thanks!

Cri said...

I never considered my desk a "sacred", a "no no" for kids. It is a semi oval table on the side of the classroom and kids sit at it whenever they feel like.
It is a dramatic change for you...but only because you alone embedded this "authority" feature in it.
As for my desk...I do really need to sit from time to time. As kids do.

Mrs Ripp aka @pernilleripp said...

Anonymous - I am sure you have a great perspective that I would benefit to hear from but when you decide to tear down others to get your point across, that is sad. I write a lot about how we need to instill respect in our classrooms, so what I meant by my comment was simply that it didn't appear that you bought into that notion since you certainly didn't respect me as a teacher. I don't know how I will feel in 20 years, but I don't think I need to feel superior to students to be an effective teacher.

TracyRosen said...

That is awesome! I don't remember the last time I really had a desk beyond a place to dump my stuff! I tended to do any teacher work (planning, reading work) at any old table in the room - usually one near a student who maybe needed my presence close. The teacher desk became another workplace in the room and (don't tell the IT department at my old school...) another computer for kids to work at. I like having it in the room for the kids. Funny, even though it was so prominent kids would gravitate towards it when they wanted to be alone.

Students don't respect me because I have a desk. They respect me because I create a safe space for them to learn, and have been striving to do so for the past 15 years.

Chris Francik said...

@ Anonymous
I'm not sure why you feel the need to be so negative and attacking. I've been teaching for 12 years so I'm hardly the super young teacher, you are attributing to other teachers who are commenting. My thoughts have changed about a great deal of education issues this summer due to my exposure to new ideas via Twitter. I've never been satisfied with the traditional model of teaching that I have used for the past decade or that I was educated with in 80's and 90's. If you feel so strongly about your beliefs, why are you anonymous?

photomatt7 said...

I am fortunate enough to have had many discussions with Pernille, so maybe I can offer some insight to why I understand where she is going with getting rid of her desk.

It has become quite clear to me that Pernille's decision to do this, and all the other progressive non-traditional things in her room, is motivated by her desire to create the most hospitable learning environment for her students. For you, and many, this may be done by barking out your rules on day one first thing and then making sure any student who is not in lockstep with you is dealt with, so to speak.

I would argue that such an environment creates compliance, but not investment. Why can't a more equal environment, where the teacher obviously remains the authority by virtue of being teacher, work? Imagine Pernille's room. She doesn't get respect because she feels it's owed to her. She gets it because her students see her as human and appreciate the structured freedom she allows them.

The people who support these outside the box ideas don't define dignity as having a desk from which they can bark orders at their terrified minions. Rather they are dignified by knowing they are helping children become more well-rounded individuals and teaching priceless self-help and independence skills. I hope you set out to do the same in your room. If not, I imagine your students are learning and working just to please you. That's dignity I can do without.


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