Why You Should Ditch Your Desk to Get Organized This Fall

When clutter becomes a challenge in the art room, the first instinct is to create more space to store things. But, often the opposite strategy is more effective. Instead of making more space for the piles of papers and supplies, consider intentionally creating less.

Here are 4 questions to ask yourself to see if you’re ready to ditch your desk.

cluttery desk

1. Am I using my desk effectively? (Hint: Probably not.)

Face it, your “teacher desk” is a workspace designed for a regular ed teacher. It was meant to serve as a clean surface for prolonged traditional lesson planning or grading. The drawers were intended to hold a small quantity of “teacher only” supplies, like scissors, scotch tape, highlighters, and pens. That desk and “teacher chair” were supposed to provide the educator with a quiet place to sit and reflect throughout the school day.

Wait, what? Does this really sound like furniture that fits the rhythm of an art teacher’s schedule? You probably aren’t using your desk effectively because it was not designed for you.

I suspect the majority of your daily teacher tasks are being performed at a table, where your students’ supplies and yours intermingle because you’re all artists using the same space. And I suspect your teacher desk, like mine, has become nothing more than a dumping ground. Think about it: when was the last time you even sat at that desk during class time? Maybe it’s time to commit to getting rid of it for good and freeing up space for something else!

The Takeaway: You’re not using your desk space well. Why keep it around!?

2. Does having a desk allow me to put off dealing with clutter?

Last year, after analyzing the daily function of my teacher desk, I realized it was operating less as a workstation and more as an elevated parking lot for all of the organizational tasks I was avoiding. Throughout the school day, supplies, paperwork, and all the mail from the faculty workroom went onto my desk. When the final bell rang, I was always left with disorganized piles needing my attention at the time I had the least attention to give.

When I committed to ditching the desk, I found I no longer had an easy place to dump things. If I had extra supplies, I had to actually put them away. Paperwork had to either be filed or recycled, because I couldn’t just stack it on my desktop, hoping to forget about it. Overall, the absence of my desk forced me to remain more organized on a daily basis.

The Takeaway: Ditching the desk will help you deal with clutter as it presents itself.

desk close up

3. Am I short on space?

Besides streamlining my organizational habits, eliminating my desk opened up whole new possibilities for classroom configurations. My desk was a behemoth, commanding a large footprint on any classroom floor plan I tried. Removing the desk made way for other, more student-centered spaces. Suddenly, I had extra room for a sensory table or a larger classroom library.  These spaces were more collaborative and spoke to my philosophy as an art teacher.

The Takeaway: There are more interesting things you can do with your desk space!

4. Isn’t a teacher desk just a symbolic reminder of an archaic teaching philosophy?

I wanted a collaborative art room, where students’ ideas were valued just as much as mine. But, maintaining a huge, teacher desk at the front of the room continued to reinforce an unspoken student vs. teacher dynamic. A private desk space at the front of the room seemed to indicate that I was still an unapproachable “sage on the stage” with all the right art answers. Now, without my desk, my students and I are forced to share the same workspaces, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Takeaway: Ditching the desk can send a powerful message to your students.

Removing the teacher desk is not going to work for everyone. But, if you DO ditch that desk, be prepared to consider a few practical aspects of your decision.

teacher table

1. You’ll need a designated space for dangerous supplies.

There are a few supplies that probably need to remain under lock and key. Depending on the level you teach, you may need to develop a strategy for the dangerous items previously living in your desk drawers. Think rubber cement, white out, and replaceable cutting blades. For me, the solution was moving these items into a locked cabinet inside my storage closet.

2. You’ll need a place to store confidential documents.

Maintaining student confidentiality is an essential task for all teachers. Whether it is a 504 form, an IEP, or a behavior plan, these documents cannot be left on counters or shelves due to the absence of a desk.  Investigate your district’s human resource department policies regarding the best practice for maintaining confidentiality. It is likely they require these documents to be locked up. In this case, a locking filing cabinet or locking flat file drawer is a suitable substitute.

3. You may need to find an alternative place to take a “time out.”

Teaching art is deeply rewarding but also deeply draining. Some professionals enjoy having their desk serve as a student-free oasis in the middle of a chaotic classroom. Don’t discount the effect removing your desk will have on your day-to-day mental state. Will you still feel like you have the space to relax in your own classroom? I found I still needed a tiny table (approx. two feet by four feet) pushed against a wall. This small piece of real estate is large enough to hold just my laptop, document camera, a cup of coffee, and my sanity.

As you plan your back-to-school classroom floor plan, reflect deeply on your traditional teacher desk. Is it an integral part of your day? Or, would removing that desk open up some positive possibilities for you and your students? If so, be brave and ditch your desk!

How often do you use your teacher desk, and for what types of activities?

If you have already ditched your desk, what are the benefits and challenges?

Lindsey Moss

Lindsey Moss is an elementary art teacher in Yorkville, Illinois. She enjoys art history and finding creative and artistic solutions to educational challenges.

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  • Tanya

    I did not ditch my desk but I did downsize dramatically. I still needed a place for my computer and a few other things so I got a small corner shelf. it was tucked out of the way and saved a lot of space but still gave me what I needed.

  • Sherry

    I ditched my desk in the last quarter of this past school year…. it was liberating!!! And my students love it! I have always had a district-issued teacher desk and 2 large file cabinets to keep all my lesson ideas, IEP’s and anything else I cannot seem to get rid of. Further into my classroom I had a raised 2×3 drawing table, which I referred to as my “teaching station” because this was where I actually taught lessons from…..
    By removing the massive teacher desk and all the clutter it collected, my drawing table now sits near the file cabinets and I find my “teaching station” is in and among the students, wherever I happen to land. It is so comfortable and the students are very excited to have me sit with them. When I need to step away, I still have my own space but rarely need to use it.

    • Lindsey Moss

      I have noticed the same thing… my students love it when I sit down to work at their tables with them. Thanks for reading, Sherry.

  • Melissa Gilbertsen

    I ditched my desk last year and since I’m a “stander” I made my doc camera table basically my base of operations. It has totally worked for forcing myself to deal immediately with all the paperwork l I have to wade through that just got piled up…and usually forgotten :{ ! I’m still trying to find the perfect place to put my teaching stand which would be more in the middle of the fray but the traditional teaching desk was a relic that didn’t work for me either. Now if I could just stop getting all that distracting paperwork…

    • Lindsey Moss

      YES!!! It was initially really difficult to deal with paperwork “as it came”, but the lack of desk has forced me to stay on top of it! Thanks for reading.

  • Michele P.

    I was planning on ditching my desk this year for my flipped classroom filming station. I never really use my desk other then to create mountains of stuff that I never look at again until my June put away time. Thanks for giving me the extra “ooomph” to take a risk and ditch my four junk drawers!!

    • Lindsey Moss

      Michele, I’m glad you feel inspired! Kelly Philips wrote an article about art teacher minimalism that has really resonated with me… I am inspired to purge this summer!

  • Denise Tanaka

    ok, you’ve convinced me! I really to let go of my desk for most of the reasons your mentioned! Thanks for the ‘oomph’, as Michele P. mentioned!

    • Lindsey Moss

      Good luck, Denise! I hope it works as well for you as it has for me!

  • CFrench

    I ditched my desk yesterday and found this article today. You confirmed and echoed all the things I was thinking: or was I the echo? I rarely sit, the desk was a landing strip for ephemera, my supplies were already stored, so why keep it? I feel this will force me to maintain the space and not allow the clutter. (and it just looks fantastic) Plus, my numbers in each class have increased dramatically each year and I was searching for room for the students. Additionally, a brand new teacher has an excellent desk for her science room! Win-win in my eyes.

  • Julie Peterson-Shea

    Last year, I ditched my desk for a drafting table just like the students- with the exception of leg extentions so that I can stand. I found myself more moble. I do have a directors chair that I occationally use to sit in while I grade, read e-mails, etc and use a box under my feet that holds “teacher’s desk stuff” such as passes, extra calculators, blades, etc. Now if I could actually have my old desk leave the room that would be awesome! No one wants it (they are getting rid of their desks too) and the storage shed is full. I also have two stacking file boxes beside me to hold things that need filed.
    We also removed a few extra small tables and a filing cabinet (most things are going digital) and in their place we have a “living room” with couch, two recliners, and a rug to give students options about how and where they work.

    • Lindsey Moss

      Julie- I love the “living room” idea. I have found that a more casual and comfortable seating arrangement seems to have an actual effect on the quality of critique and conversation in my room.