No More Desk!

I did it!  I’ve been thinking about it for years (like 7 years) and I finally decided to get rid of my teacher desk!

The idea first came to me at a Responsive Classroom workshop where one of the lead teachers talked about how he gave up his desk and gained more space for his students.  Then I saw other testimonials, if you will, from other teachers who gave up their desks and loved it.

But it’s a huge move.

First I had to get rid of all the stuff inside every drawer!  The files were easy.  I was able to shove the hanging files into another filing cabinet in my room and along the way I got rid of some folders that hadn’t seen the florescent light in years.

I then went to the small boxes and bins of things that lined my drawers: a basket of stamps, a coffee can of magnets, a basket of stickers – those I straightened out and put in a cabinet.

Binders, baskets, boxes and even Beethoven have a home in this cabinet!

Then there were all the hoarded office supplies: pads of paper, sticky notes, pens, paper clips, staples, more pens, more staples, rubber bands, pens, more staples, four staple-taker-outers (really?), another box of staples… you get the idea.  I took all those things and put them with my official stash of class supplies in a cabinet.  That way, it’s all in one place.  And if I have to walk 20 seconds to get a row of staples, that is ok. 😉

There was quite a bit of miscellaneous stuff.  A bunch of junk made it to the trash can, some pens got put in a cup, a lonely Jolly Rancher made it into my mouth, a penny here and a thumb tack there – all taken care of.

And then there was the big move.  Mike, our custodian came, lifted the monstrosity with his desk jack and took it away.   Ahhhh….  space.  🙂

There’s no doubt you have to do this drastic deed when the spirit moves you.  You must be in a purging/organizational phase.  I was there.  It was the second time I had visited my room at the end of summer break and the room was a disaster.  All the furniture was out of place, student desks and chairs were stacked up high and there sat my big, clunky teacher desk in the wrong spot.  (I have to wonder if they put it in the right spot, would I have made the decision I did?)

But even as I was cleaning out the desk, I had my doubts.  “Will I miss it?  Will I regret this?  Will I have enough space?  Will I need it back in a couple of weeks?”  But I kept telling myself. I will just adjust to it and make it work.  *breathe*

My new computer set up - no clutter.

That’s when I remembered that I had a ton of stuff that I always kept on top of my desk.  Oh, boy – more work.  So, little by little I went through the things I usually put ON my desk – including my computer and printer.  I put those on a smaller rolling table along with a cup of pens and pencils.  The tape dispenser, stapler and three-hole punch went in a centralized location for all to use.  The binders, folders and notebooks I kept on my desk went into a, wait for it, book shelf for easy access.

I was quickly realizing this wasn’t so difficult after all.  With everything slowly finding a new home, I was beginning to enjoy my newly discovered freedom in NOT having a desk.

Let’s face it, the last few years, it was quickly becoming a clutter catcher.

I think my desk threw up on this day back in January of 2012.

 My hope is that will not be the case (so much) this year.

I guess you could say that I warmed up to this idea a year or so ago when I decided to take desks away from my fourth graders.

And what used to be clutter collectors and paper jamming holes, became a shelf for our classroom student reference books.

Not having desks used in the traditional manner is quite freeing:

  • If I need to change student seats on a whim, all the students need to do is get up and move to a different seat.
  • Even the monthly or seasonal whole-class desk change is so easy – I just gather name tags and redistribute.  No more wretched sound of desks being dragged across the room!
  • As the year progresses, I invite students to come in and choose their own seats.  They love that!
  • No more Friday desk cleaning time!
  • Clutter is kept to a minimum.  Since there is only so much space in a cubby, kids are forced to only keep the essentials.
  • A teacher’s inspection of students’ belongings is quick.  All I have to do now is walk the line of cubbies, see which ones need some help and fix it up in no time at all.

I highly recommend considering this change.  I am, by no means a neat freak or a minimalist.  Don’t get me wrong, I love things to be tidy around me and am calmed by clear open, organized spaces, but that is just not my reality all the time.

This probably doesn’t even have to be a beginning of the year thing either.  You could do it days or weeks into the year or make it a classroom project or challenge.

So, now I really want to hear from you!

Have you also taken the traditional concept of the desk away from your students or yourself?  Or have you considered it?  Or can you not even think of such a crazy idea?  I would LOVE to hear from you!  What are your thoughts on the use of desks in the classroom?  Please add your thoughts in the comments below.

(Reading this in an email?  Go HERE to add a comment.)


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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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  1. Ann Mackey says:

    Congrats! I’m not quite ready to give up my desk as it is a homage to piles of paper. But maybe I’ll get there. I did try something new this year in making half my classroom desks and the other half tables. I grouped the desks in the back of the room and the tables in the front. I did this so that I could quickly have the students move the tables and chairs so that we could have a large open space to explore movement and drama in the classroom in a faster transition than I was having with desks. So far, the first 3 weeks into school all is going well, with our best transition time taking 45 seconds. Wish me luck that by the middle of the year we will have it down to 30 seconds!

    • That is great, Ann! I would love to have tables in my room as opposed to desks. I’m glad to hear they are working well for you so that you can do more movement and drama. I have also gained some space to move. Now my classroom is less of an obstacle course. HOWEVER, I think I will miss having a drop spot for all my papers. Only time will tell! 😉

  2. Shea says:

    I am moving from kindergarten to grade 6 this year and got rid of my desk too! I wanted my students to see this as OUR classroom and my having a desk seemed territorial. All my cupboards and materials are totally accessible to students…and I plan to I still a sense of responsibility and respect of their use. My custodial staff was so happy to not have to clean around this monstrosity! When the comment was made that they wished tables were used instead of individual desks I jumped!!!! When I came in the next day I was offered enough tables to fit my students and banished their desks!!!! Fingers are crossed this will be a positive move!!

    • Shea, What a move! I remember going from second to MS. It was quite a change. I’m glad you mentioned the idea of making more things accessible to students. That will be a challenge for me. Now that all the materials are dispersed in the room, we will certainly have to work on better material use and responsibility. And that is awesome that you have moved to tables! I would love to do that. They seem so much more conducive to collaborative learning and adjusting a room as needed. Good for you! Check in later to let us know how things progress this year!

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