Teachers! Without your desks, you are nothing

17th March 2006 at 00:00
The strictures of the national curriculum have eroded teachers' autonomy.

But are we now seeing an attempt to remove evidence of teachers themselves from the classroom? Whatever has happened to the teacher's desk in the modern primary school room?

As a supply teacher I have experience of many classrooms. They all have their own pupil desk arrangements, reflecting different methodologies for classroom organisation, but they also all seem to share a disregard for the teacher as far as his or her working area is concerned.

On entering a room I am on the lookout for somewhere to stow my bag and coat. If I'm lucky there might be a lockable cupboard; otherwise my belongings end up on the floor in a corner, adding clutter and exposed to prying fingers.

Next I need to find the file with those all important lesson plans. In a room with no teacher's desk, the file might be perched on a tiny child's chair somewhere underneath the whiteboard. Or perhaps on the teacher's seat, typically a disintegrating armchair found at the edge of a piece of carpet.

Now I need some pens. I will probably find them in a small tray, labelled with the teacher's name, somewhere at ankle height in a bank of other trays used by the children.

And that is just the beginning of the day. Other schools may have retained their teachers' desks but, in a bid for homogenisation and to appear business-like, they act as nothing more than glorified laptop stands. These working areas are neat, professional and sterile. Nothing is to hand and there is no evidence of a personality having been stamped upon it.

Technology has pride of place.

I yearn for the days when you could tell a lot about teachers by looking at their desks. Some surfaces had not been seen in years, and were permanently covered in papers, books, stopwatches, socks, fossils and possibly a muddy football. Others were beautiful, tidy and polished with in-trays and out-trays, pots of sharpeners and rubbers(numbered in case of loss) and probably a small vase of flowers.

The demise of the teacher's desk means we've lost the aura of that special, important place in the classroom. The drawers were indeed magical containers. You want a screwdriver? In here. An elastic band? In that drawer. A 9v battery? A hair band? Where are those things kept now?

So in the current debate about the best way to organise a classroom, let's not marginalise that room's most important resource - the teacher. Let's ensure they have a working area that they can make into their own special place.

Paul Warnes is a primary supply teacher in Kent

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