I had been thinking about it for about a year now. But the decision to get rid of my teacher’s desk was officially made on the final PA day of the school year when we came into school to clean up our classrooms. As I looked at this old, broken down symbol of authority, I asked myself a question, “What if I didn’t have a teacher’s desk next year?” The possibilities of what may become of that answer intrigued me more than the practicality of keeping it. So I scrapped my teacher’s desk. I asked a fellow colleague to help me move it in the hallway and when I told him that I was getting rid of it he seemed slightly amused by the thought, only to stare blankly at my face when we got it out the door and he came to the realization that I was actually serious.
But why do I need my own teacher’s desk? The desk is one of schooling’s traditional markers of power. It is the sign and sight of the authoritative figure in the classroom. The ruler of the classroom kingdom owns that space and it should not be messed with. I’ve seen teachers lose their minds on students when students sit at the “teacher’s desk”. We shuffle kids in and out of spaces and try different groupings throughout the year, but when one student ventures into the forbidden territory of sitting at the teacher’s desk, many teachers freak out.
I used to be a teacher that cherished my invaluable teacher’s desk. I wouldn’t let kids sit there either. But then I realized that the teacher’s desk is just another obstacle that is impeding teacher-student relationships and classroom authenticity. When I was indifferent to students sitting and doing their work at my desk, I tangibly felt the power that such an object had on children. Students would vie to sit there during a lesson and then quietly do their work after. It became a site of privilege for students. This is because it is a site of privilege for teachers. The teacher’s desk allows teachers to sit and command from a distance. It fosters this idea of provisional self-esteem by signaling to the class that things may look like we’re promoting democracy but really things are running more like a dictatorship. I want the students who enter my classroom to realize that I truly am just the “lead learner” and next year I am going to start by helping them understand this through spatial transforming. And the first thing I had to do was get rid of my teacher’s desk.
Getting rid of my teacher’s desk does not mean that I am better than any other teacher. What it means to me is that I am checking (or acknowledging) my privilege as a teacher in the space of the classroom and in order to facilitate a more equitable classroom community for my students, erasing one of the pillars of that inequity is a step in the right direction. I am comfortable in my role as the head member in my classroom, and I don’t need a teacher’s desk anymore to signify that.