The Teacher's Desk - Setting Up the Classroom Series

This post is part of my Setting Up Your Classroom Series.

I posted this same picture in the small group area post, but...

A- It's so darn awesome that it is worthy of two posts and
B- It is applicable to this post as well. ;)

In a blog dedicated to decluttering classrooms, it is mandatory that I begin with the following question:

Do you really need a teacher desk?

Teacher "desks" often become teacher "offices" which take up a good chunk of the classroom. If you are short on space, you may want to consider doing away with the desk completely.

The reason I reposted Deanna's table, is because I super heart the way she added the colorful table skirt around it. This would be a fabulous way to make your teaching table double as your "desk." The skirt would allow you to store stuff underneath, and you could use a small supply basket for the essentials.

To determine if you could take the plunge and get rid of your desk ask yourself:

What do I use my desk for?
If it's storage, think about other places that you could store those same materials (or better yet, declutter the space and get rid of some of them). If you use your desk for planning, grading, etc. then consider alternative spaces that would work better.

Am I the only one benefiting from the space?
Teacher desks frequently monopolize a large fraction of the classroom, yet only one person is getting use out of it.

How does this piece of furniture effect my teaching?
Most teachers report that they don't spend much time at their desk. When children are present, teachers should be working with them and not sitting alone at a desk. When they are out of the room there are tables available to work at. Just some food for thought.

How does your desk area usually look and how does that make you feel?
The desk is a direct reflection of you. If it is cluttered and messy then that sends a message to the kids.

Is getting rid of the desk an option? If not, how could it be repurposed?
I currently have a teacher desk in my classroom. I doubt it could be removed because I don't think there would be anywhere to store it. However, I am planning to repurpose it as an area that kids can work at. It's higher than the tables so it'll be a good option for those friends that like to stand and work.

If you do really need a teacher desk, then let's focus on how to make it organized and efficient...

The following is a post I did last year about my desk.

I know that I function best in a clean, organized workspace.

Shocker, huh?

It sounds obvious, but it's easy to let your desk get cluttered. Taking the time to organize it and to establish methods of maintaining order are well worth it.

I like my desktop to be completely clear. It gives me room to work when I am planning and it provides a positive model for my students. To keep it clean I did a few things:

I removed anything that was not a job necessity from the area. I love my kids and think they are adorable, but I don't keep framed pictures on my desk. I do have a few tacked to the wall next to my desk (along with some of my son's finer preschool artwork). I also choose to not store knick-knacks and other cutesy things there.

I took the items that are typically found on a teacher's desktop and relocated them to my top left drawer. They are still very easy for me to access, but are not cluttering the area. This includes things like post-its, a stapler, tape, etc.
I like to use small containers within the drawer to keep things organized. Labeling the baskets is helpful too. There are some great desk organizer products available, but I prefer to keep everything out of sight.

I use my bottom left drawer to house my extra office supplyish type thingies.

Chances are you will never find yourself in a situation that warrants the immediate use of 3 rolls of tape, 4 boxes of staples and 2.5 bottles of White Out. I keep all of these items in plastic pencil boxes in the drawer and keep only one of each accessible.

Once your desk is organized, develop routines to make it easy to stay that way. Get into the habit of always clearing off your desktop at the end of prep, before lunch and before you leave for the day.

You can read about how Mandy Gregory did away with her teacher desk here:

From Mrs. Bird's site:

I like how this teacher personalized her desk with some decorations on the front.

Mrs. Farley over at Oh, Boy Fourth Grade (formerly 3rd), hosted a linky party where teachers posted about their desk areas. You can check it out here to see what others posted.
Here's her desk here:

Ms. Male uses plastic drawers on her desk (I heart those btw) in place of stacking trays. If your desk is against a wall they are a nice option.

Tips for Keeping a Clean Desk:
  • Stop using Post-It Notes. Instead keep one notebook designated for reminders and to do lists. I love me a Post-It too, but they make your work area look cluttered.
  • Find a new home for the tools that typically sit on top of a desk. I referring to tape dispensers, staplers, pencil cups,
  • Limit the family photos and kid art. It’s nice to have pictures of your family available so that your students can connect with you and know you are human. It’s also great to be able to look at the smiling faces or your loved ones while you are away from them. However, your classroom should not be a shrine to your family. Consider creating a personalized binder cover insert or a page protector with your personal photos. You could also go digital and simply look at your phone when you want to see those adorable little smiles.
  • Say no to knick-knacks. Enough said.
  • Ditch the desktop calendar. They are big. They are bulky. And chances are you are going to need to duplicate the dates and notes into something more portable anyhow.
  • Schedule times to clean your desk. Make this a routine. My class takes a few minutes to wash their hands and gather their recess things just before lunch. They also take about five minutes to pack up to go home at dismissal. I use both of those times to “manage” my desk. I quickly recycle anything I don’t need, address things in my action file, and relocate anything that has been placed onto the surface. Because it never gets to the “out of control” stage, I am able to tend to it during these two short periods of time. After the kids leave for the day I wipe the desk down and place my emergency sub binder in the center of the desk.
  • Stick to one pen. Pick a brand and color that you like and use it exclusively. Only keep 2-3 on hand at a time.
  • Don’t print emails or resources unless you absolutely need to.
  • Use twist-ties to tame cords.
Reasons for Keeping a Clean Desk
  • A clean workspace will improve efficiency.
  • It will present an organized, professional image.
  • Having systems to maintain your space daily helps protect confidential data and student information.
  • It will make you more relaxed and less stressed.

How to Declutter a Desk:

I’ve shared my Rules for Decluttering your classroom. Keep those in mind, but we need to add in a few more when it comes to your desk.

Could you store the items elsewhere? I keep the majority of mine in a supply area / writing center that is shared with the students. Here are a few other ideas I found that would work.
I've seen this project duplicated a few times, but I'm pretty sure Rebecca Rojas' is the original.
I loved it when she first posted it last summer.

This was meant to be a teacher gift, but you could certainly craft your own supply box.

This could hang inside a closet.

Is the item readily available in the teacher supply closet? If there isn’t a shortage of staples, paper clips or whiteout in your building then you don’t need to be hoarding them in your classroom.

What does this item say about you? How much joy does it bring you? The space on your desk is limited. Don’t waste it with random tchotchkes that are perceived as clutter to others. Instead select one thing that really makes you happy and treat yourself. Perhaps a decorative lamp, a gorgeous frame or a vase of fresh cut flowers. Plan to have one item as a splurge. Compare other items to this when deciding their value.

Use your small sorting bins to quickly purge the unwanted items on your desktop and in your drawers.

Clean the Area:
Wipe down the surface and all the nooks and crannies within the drawers.

It’s very easy to accumulate a lot of unnecessary “stuff” in and around a desk. Start by determining what you really need and what you can remove from the classroom. 

And remember, the more you get rid of the less you’ll need to organize. 

  • Gather 2 small sorting containers (labeled keep and donate), a recycling bin, and a trash can. Place the sorting containers on top of your desk. Open one drawer at a time, remove the items and place them into the appropriate container. 
  • Now go through the container of items you plan to keep, sort and reconsider the items. Place like items together (pens/pencils, stickers/stamps, paperclips/binder clips, etc).  Get rid of anything that is considered excess. You don’t need three scissors or four bottles of whiteout. 
  • If you have a teacher supply closet at your school simply place the excess staples, paperclips, etc back in there. It’ll be there when you need it. If you can’t stand to part with it then consider getting a small storage box and placing all of the duplicate and overstocked items inside so that your actual workspace is simplified.
  • After you have removed everything from your desk, give it a deep cleaning. Add in organizational systems for sorting objects with labels before returning items to it.
  • Designate a space for things that come and go with you each day so they are not left out on your desktop (i.e. cell phone, camera, keys).
  • Try putting everything you need into a box next to your desk for a week or two. When you take an item out to use place it inside your desk. Reevaluate the items that are still in the box and weren’t used at the end of the designated time period. Do you really need them?
  • Stick with one color pen. If the ink runs out you can easily grab a backup pen without needing to rummage through a collection of writing utensils to finish writing that note.
  • Minimize personal clutter. We all love our families, but we don’t need to make our classroom workspace a shrine to them. One nice family photo is sufficient. 
  • Keep a clear desktop. You’ll be amazed at how this makes you feel psychologically. To achieve this goal store things in the drawers, attach photos to the desk or on a nearby wall. 
  • Consider creating a “traveling office” by placing a pair of scissors, a stapler, a roll of tape, a couple pens and some paperclips into a portable tote that can be stored on a shelf, under a table or in a cupboard when not in use.
  • Have a plan for all those student drawings that are presented to you. Perhaps you could designate a small bulletin board and rotate the gifted artwork or simply say, “this will look beautiful on my fridge at home.”
  • Create smaller containers and spaces to store items within drawers. Use small boxes, plastic containers, muffin tins or draw sorters to keep things organized. Go the extra step by labeling each section. It greatly increases the odds that you’ll put things back into their proper place.
  • Find a method of managing cords that works well for you.  You can use zip ties to tighten them and/or a basket to corral them.  You could also cut holes in a box to keep the cords together while in use. Attach a label near the power source to identify the purpose of the cord. 
  • Do not use your workspace as a closet. Designate a closet or drawer to house your purse, coat, lunchbag, etc during the workday.
  • Establish routines for maintaining a clutter-free, clean workspace. Keep a container of baby wipes in your newly decluttered drawer. Get in the habit of clearing the surface throughout the day and wiping it down before you go home.
  • Use the sticky end of a Post-It note to clean between the keys on your keyboard.
  • Avoid eating at your desk. It will invite mess.
  • Have a designated space for notes and a method for organizing your Post-Its to avoid little scraps of paper here, there and everywhere.
  • Avoid a generic “inbox tray.”  Invest in a filing system. Create sections for managing papers (i.e. need response, to be copied, to be corrected, to be filled out, etc). This will keep things current and allow you to have less piles to shuffle.
  • Go paperless as much as possible. Use your iPhone for notes, calendar, etc.
  • Keep a paper shredder and a trash can within close proximity to your work area to make it easier to purge as needed.
  • Designate one day a month for a deep desk cleaning. Get rid of anything you’ve acquired recently that you don’t need along with items you may have initially saved.
The photo below shows how I leave the desk in my classroom set up each night in the event that I am unexpectedly absent the next day. If you have not yet read my posts aboutplanning for a sub you can do so here {be sure to grab the free printables while you are there}.

By the way, if you are not already subscribed to The Clutter-Free Classroom newsletter I encourage you sign up. Subscribers receive weekly tips for organizing and managing a classroom as well as exclusive free printables. You can sign up here.

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