This article is written by Truth for Teachers writer Meagan Kimm.
What is something that teachers don’t have enough of? Time? Money? Support?
Yes, to all the above, but today’s topic is about something else we are often lacking … space.
Teaching comes with a lot of stuff. You have textbooks and their accompanying teacher’s editions, math manipulatives, art supplies, and a years’ worth of tissue boxes to store. Not to mention you need room for 25+ students to come in everyday, bringing with them books, backpacks, and lunches.
Supplies need to be stored, but easily accessible. Students need to work individually, in groups, and need room to move around. We need space for students to not only sit, but to participate. How often have you looked around your classroom and thought to yourself, “How am I going to make this work?”
As an elementary teacher, I was always looking for ways I could find space for my students. I wanted a space for circle time and reading together. I needed floor space for puzzles, blocks, and coding robots to roam around. But when I looked around my classroom, everything there was essential and being used.
Except there was one thing that stood out to me, my teacher desk. Sure, it held lots of stuff. It’s where I hid chocolate, sat to grade, and answered a million parent emails before and after school. But most of the time, I wasn’t sitting behind it. During lessons I was at the board or moving around the room with my class. I mostly helped students at our table where we had reading groups and math centers. I only really found myself seated at my desk when my students weren’t with me.
I knew I had to get rid of my teacher desk in order to create the space we needed. It was huge and unnecessary. My first thought was to replace it with a smaller desk. A teacher had to have a desk, right?
But the more I thought about it, I didn’t want to bring another piece of furniture into the room. The whole point was trying to create space, not diminish it, so I worked with what I already had.
After receiving help from the world’s best custodian to take apart and remove the desk, I got to work finding a place for all my “teacher stuff.”
The first thing I did was do a heavy purge. Those resource books I haven’t used all year? Donated. My pen collection? Majorly cleaned out. That chocolate I stashed? Eaten. I followed the brilliant advice of Marie Kondo, if it didn’t bring me joy and wasn’t used or necessary to have, out it went.
After this, I had extra bookshelves that helped me to store and organize what I needed. Our group table replaced where my desk had been, and behind it was my computer, teacher editions, reading group resources and whatever else I felt I needed.
One question I receive about the set up above is about students being able to see my computer screen. This was the computer that was attached to the SMART board, meaning they could always see what was there if it were on. Seldomly did I grade or respond to parent emails on this desktop.
To help store the little bits like pens, paperclips, and staples, I was given the brown shelf with perfectly sized drawers for office supplies, while the bookshelves kept my teacher editions and resource materials.
This change allowed me to spread out students’ desks and opened floor space for a circle time rug.
I truly did not miss my desk at all. I still had everything I needed and had organized it into what was more convenient for me. I loved having our reading group materials in an easy to reach spot. Whenever a student needed help, I always had room at the table. I could quickly call a group over during any subject. I found I was able to help more than one student with writing assignments, so with this set up made my life a lot easier. No more dealing with the dreaded long line of students waiting for me at my desk.
I love being desk free. When my teaching career took me back across the country to my hometown, a new classroom came with it. Although this desk was smaller than before, I knew I wanted to stick with the group table set up that worked well for me and my students before.
Like I mentioned before, I am all about using what I already have so instead of an extra bookshelf, I used an old Ikea dresser. I replaced the knobs with mix-matched pieces from World Market. This serves no greater purpose other than I liked the way they looked.
Ditching my teacher desk made me wonder what else I could get rid of. I took another look around for what wasn’t necessary and decided the filing cabinets had to go.
My dresser was able to house my teacher desk items and all the files the cabinets previously held. I put a utensil tray in the top drawer which holds my office supplies and keeps them organized. The other drawers hold my teacher editions, gradebooks, and resource materials. The files from my old filing cabinet fit easily in the bottom drawer and this turned out to be a more convenient place for me to reach them.
Should I get rid of my teacher desk?
Ditching your teacher desk might not work for everyone. There are a lot of considerations that come into play. In each of my classrooms I had permission from my principal to remove the desk. I also had help from the custodians in taking apart and removing them. The timing worked well, and my school was in the middle of donating items to a local thrift store, they were able to take the desk too. This meant we were not trying to find storage for it somewhere else.
Regardless of your grade-level, the concept of reclaiming space can work for every teacher. Maybe you don’t need to completely get rid of your desk, but could downsize. With technology, chances are you don’t need to keep so many hard copies in those filing cabinets you have had for years. My rule is if I haven’t used it in the last two school years, then it can go. If removing furniture is not an option, perhaps you could repurpose what you already have. Could your empty desk work as an individual or small group conference space with students? Maybe a writing center for the younger grades? A group puzzle table for early finishers to visit?
The main goal is to find what works best for you and your students. With this in mind, I also want to note the importance of creating a classroom space that you and your students love. During the school year I spend more time in my classroom than my actual home. I want it to be a place I look forward to going each day. I want my students to feel this way too.
This picture shows that my teacher’s aid also ditched her desk for a group-work table.
I have found that by adding touches from home, I can create a space I love, and one parents feel good about sending their children to every day.
My advice for getting rid of the teacher desk in the classroom
A little change is always good. Rearranging what you already have in your classroom can help you have a fresh start. You do not have to wait for a new school year to make a change. I have rearranged my classrooms throughout the year. Sometimes you don’t know what will or won’t work until the students are in the classroom with you. My students get more excited about the changes than I do. As always with students, they will be very honest about what they do or don’t like.
If you would like to ditch your teacher desk here is my advice:
1) Speak with your principal or administration. My principal likes to say if I come to him with a problem, I should also be bringing a solution. Each time, I offered to remove the desk myself or with help from my family (sorry Dad). I’ve borrowed friends’ trucks and taken filing cabinets to thrift stores. Most often the push-back comes from a lack of storage space within the school. If you can offer to relieve that worry (and other people realize you aren’t asking them to do anything) you will usually get a ‘yes.’
2) Think through what you wish to accomplish by making this change. I knew I needed floor space. In first grade we move around a lot. We need to be able to do write-the-room activities, practice measuring different sized items, and have ample space for GoNoodle dancing. Once I explained this to my admin, they were on-board.
3) Purge, purge, purge! I know as teachers we are accustomed to saving, well … everything. But it is time to change that. Go through everything. Do you need to keep hard copies or can you store digital files? If you haven’t used those craft materials in the past two-years, they can find a new home. I like to have what I call a “Teacher Yard Sale” which is where I put up tables outside of (or in) my classroom during the teacher workdays at the end or beginning of the school year. Whatever is there is up for grabs! If anything is left over, I bag it up and donate it. This can be overwhelming, so try to focus on one section of your room at a time. One day tackle a filing cabinet. The next day focus on desk drawers. A little bit at a time makes a big difference.
4) Do you need a bookshelf or set of drawers to store your teacher desk items? Before you go to buy something new, ask around your school. Try sending out a staff-wide email explaining what you are looking for. Other teachers might have furniture at home or school they would like to get rid of. Offer to come and pick everything up, people are much more willing to give if they don’t have to take time out of their day. You can also ask parents. Send an email out asking parents if they or anyone they know would want to donate a piece of furniture to your classroom. I have also asked parents to keep their eyes out for whatever item I’m searching for. Then they’ll email me if they see something on Facebook Marketplace or in a thrift store that would work. People are usually happy to get rid of old items, and who doesn’t love donating to a school? In some instances their donation could be considered a charitable donation and used as a write off.
5) Repurpose and reuse! Spray paint everything! Old bookshelves take on a whole new life with a fresh coat of spray paint. If you can’t move the item outside for painting, give contact paper a try. I’ve put contact paper on everything. Filing cabinets, bookshelves, student desks, and my trash cans. The custodians tease me for this but hey, everyone knows which trash cans are mine.
6) If you do find yourself needing to spend out-of-pocket check out thrift stores, yard-sales, and online options like Facebook Marketplace or OfferUp. I tell everyone I am a teacher, and it is for my classroom. I’ve had people from OfferUp add in extra items for the class, and thrift stores give me a teacher discount. It never hurts to ask.
Whether or not you decide to ditch your teacher desk, create a space that will serve you and your students. You spend so much time in your classroom, you deserve for it to be a space that welcomes and supports you each day.
If you caught the Mary statues in these pictures, you might have guessed that both classrooms pictured are from Catholic schools. I know every school has a different climate and administration. The changes I made may not be an option for you, and that is okay. If you are interested in downsizing, rearranging, or repurposing and don’t know where to start, please reach out! I am a classroom design enthusiast and would be happy to provide help or support if possible.