Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lift Off from the Teacher Desk

Be with the people, not the device. Be with the person sitting next to you. Be with the child who's telling you about his day from the backseat of the car. Be with the friend who has come over for a play date. Be with the relatives who are over for dinner. Be with the students sitting in your classroom.

There is a difference between being in the same place with a person and being with that person. Being
with someone means you are attentive to the other person. You are mindful of the person and the person in turn is attentive to and mindful of you. Being with someone means you are focused on him or her, not your never ending to-do list, email, Facebook, car repairs or what you're going to cook for dinner. Being with means sharing and doing together. Being with gives the gift of attention and presence to another.

It is sometimes challenging for teachers to be with their students. Sure, we are in the same vicinity as students everyday in our classrooms. Are really with them or are we engaging in parallel work: students are doing an assignment and we are too? Teachers need to take attendance, calculate grades, give feedback, respond to emails, plan lessons, create assessments--the list is never ending for classroom teachers. So how can we do what we need to get done when we have students most if not the entire day?

I've had three conversations about teachers sitting behind their desks this week, so I thought I'd take a

minute to brainstorm a few alternatives to sitting behind the desk.

1. Work the room. Instead of grading papers behind your desk, seat students in small groups and grade as you visit each group. As students work on a task, individually or collaboratively, stop by the group and listen in. Affirm, reteach or redirect the group then mark the papers for the group.

2. Make laps. If you have to grade or create lesson plans, set up a work space you can use while standing. Confer with students for ten minutes, then lap back to your standing work space for five. Make another monitoring lap for ten minutes or so, then back to your  work station for another pass. Standing and moving to work is key here.

3. Deploy a device. Instead of staying tethered to your teacher computer, consider using a mobile device to complete daily tasks of taking attendance, recording grades or checking email. You can even turn your cell phone into a remote to control your desktop computer (Source Forge has your back on this one though you will have to dig in to the technical how-to in order to match make your machines). Access is an issue with this work around. Some schools are wall-to-wall wireless; others are not. Some schools issue iPads and laptops to teachers; others do not. Some teachers use their own personal devices; others may not be allowed to do so.

4. Structure your time.  Schedules require discipline. Take note of how you could use your time in the morning before school begins, during the day when you are student-free and in the afternoon at school's end. Can you find thirty minutes for email? Can you ear mark one day to stay late after school? Instead of taking work home, stick to it after hours at school one day. Keeping tasks in time boundaries can help prevent them from hogging our attention during class or at home.

5. Relax. Enjoy the kids. Teachers are feeling pressure to perform--at my school, in my district, across my state. Performance measures are changing rapidly. Sometimes the stress of seemingly constant change makes us want to go to ground and hole up--we become entrenched because we are overwhelmed as demands are lobbed at us. We are racing to the top with new guidelines for evaluating teachers, new standards and new assessments. Stop running. Stop spinning. Stop for a few minutes, a class period, a week. Be with the people. Be with your students. Enjoy the kids. Have them read something they have written. Write with them. Discuss a good book or article related to your content. Read together. Breathe. Reconnect to the joy that told you wanted to teach in the first place.

Our work space formerly known as the "Teacher's Desk."
The table connected to the desk is perfect for
conferring and teaching small groups.
I still have a teacher desk in my classroom--though I work hard to not call it that. It is a shared work space. On the "teacher" desk is a school-issued desktop computer, a phone, a desk calendar, a box of tissues, a box of band aids and miscellany of artifacts that tell the story of where we are as learners this week (handouts, books, file folders, notes, etc.). It's not just my work area though. Students use it too--they can use their log in for the computer and sometimes we need one more working machine, so they do. It is our space really, not just mine. We all use the sink, the phone, the tissues, the pens, the pencils, the cleaning supplies (stored underneath)--you name it.  It's in the back of the room--well, back being a relative term as we can face many directions in our classroom. Language is sticky.

I wouldn't mind getting rid of the desk (two tables and desk--an L shaped work space), but I need the storage and room to spread out. I also need one drawer that is mine. One spot where I can store grade rosters, confidential information and professional files--those end up in the desk's file-drawer. Plus the added table means I can configure nine work groups in the room--this one at the "back" is perfect for conferring or teaching small groups.

Liftoff! by Jason Major
The work space can be a black hole though. If I wander too close, I feel the gravitational pull of my email box. If my trajectory puts me in the path of the desk calendar, I could lose an hour planning or rearranging plans. As long as I lift off from the work space early and maintain acceleration as I orbit the room, my chances of getting sucked  into the silo of working alone decreases. The mission, after all, is to be with the people, to teach them, encourage them, prod and support them for as long as the schedule allows.


  1. Lee Ann, love your suggestions here! Sitting back behind my desk is not something I practice. I don't even have a desk! But as an elementary resource teacher, I am in the hallways picking up or dropping off students, and I'm shocked at the handful of teachers who truly call their desk home during the day when students are in the class ready to learn! I get it too. We are all busy. We all have a million-and-one things to do. But that's it: We ALL are in the same boat. And we ALL were hired to teach and learn right beside each and everyone of our students "as long as the schedule allows." That is key. We have a set number of minutes dictated by a schedule (that usually revolves around lunch and specials . . . don't get me started...) and we don't want to lose precious time with the little things on our to do list. We have a bigger to do list waiting, watching, wondering what is up next. Thanks for sharing! I only wish I knew a way to share this with others...

    1. Oh, I also noticed your poster: "Keep calm and DFTBA." I had to google to find out the meaning! I love it! Thanks for being awesome! :)

  2. I am a new teacher and I decided that the traditional desk did not work for me. I use a kidney-shaped reading table for my landing spot. This always makes me more open to my students and easily helps me transition from teacher duties to reading groups. I love it and never miss the desk.

  3. I am a new teacher and I decided that the traditional desk did not work for me. I use a kidney-shaped reading table for my landing spot. This always makes me more open to my students and easily helps me transition from teacher duties to reading groups. I love it and never miss the desk.