Friday, March 14, 2014

Teachers Desks: the new dinosaur?

Credit: Edutopia
A colleague and I had a laugh over an image on Edutopia. The article was wonderful--focusing on designing units of instruction. The photograph was a unicorn.

That image is not real. She is a cyborg. A figment of the imagination of undergraduates in education schools.

For starters, she is at ease, focused, and not distracted. No one is clamoring for her attention.

And she has a red pen. Really.

Who uses a red pen anymore?

For a few years, our school has been working under the guidelines that no one sends an all-staff email unless it is approved by the office. This has really helped streamline our inboxes. It also allows me to illustrate the importance of being a connected educator.

Just this week, I received 103 email messages requiring that I know the information and/or reply.
Broken down by day, you can see the heaviest hit of emails came early in the week: Monday, 26; Tuesday:, 25; Wednesday, 17; Thursday, 23; and Friday, 12.

Some weeks it is more, rarely is it less.

Every planning or team period this week was filled with either parent conferences or planning for group activities next week. Additionally, I had three double-sided forms to fill out, with anecdotal evidence, for three students. I had to print and distribute four grade update forms and then turn around and collect them two days later.

We have concussion forms to observe and special education forms to keep updated.

And this was a light week because everyone in education has a form. And they are all necessary. And they all deserve our time and attention.

Everyone and every form is important.

Consider I am still working through a pile a papers, and a pile of tests, and trying to plan well enough to stay one step ahead of my kids and their current projects.

This is by no means a complaint or a woe-is-me moment. It is a decent slice of life of the surface issues of a teacher's week.

Just the surface.

It doesn't account for the dozens of conversations with kids and colleagues. It doesn't address the instantaneous needs of students and colleagues. One can't fully appreciate the moment when an adolescent comes to you about something bothering them unless you've been in the position to drop every expectation and form from everyone around you just so can help that kid in that moment.

Because no matter what, if that kid is coming to you, they need you.

And we handle it. And if we can't, we direct him/her to someone who might be able to. And then we try to pick up the abandoned cords of our day, to pull what is tied on the ends of these loose strands closer to us.

Closer to us so we can manage more than one task at a time--which is the trick in education. How do you manage all of your tasks without keeping people waiting and without insulting someone else who is watching you answer an email in the middle of a meeting?

I cant imagine the world of education where one task at a time dominated the day. I would like to go back to it. It would be great for everyone. But whether I have a device in my possession or not, the reality is my brain is racing to the next meeting, next class, next coverage, the next thing--and how I am going to get it done.

And using our laptops or devices while a meeting is occurring might come across as rude or disrespectful to some. I get it, and we have to pick our spots for sure. But time is an incredibly precious commodity in education, and teachers are becoming more resourceful with it out of necessity.

For me, one of my life lines are handheld devices--iPhone and iPad. And thank God that we use laptops. I can't imagine being anchored to a desk.

Why do we even still have desks anymore? Seriously--aren't they the dinosaurs of education considering how mobile we can become?

Dump the desk. Get up. And embrace the mobile device.

My point is, I can not imagine not having constant access to everything so that I can stay on top of every email, form, request, change... rolling out to us through the day.

The days in education where teachers are sitting along in a room, planning in silence, are over.

The days in education where teachers have blocks of time to spend freely, casually reading emails over a hot cup of tea, are over.

Our devices are our tools. Mine helps me do my job better than if I did not have it. Not to mention that kids need to see adults modeling positive behaviors with devices--and burying it in our desks isn't modeling anything.

I don't know about you, but I am reading, listening, planning, collaborating, and teaching on the fly.  And if I'm not, I'm missing things.

And I'd bet others are too.


  1. Wow-there's a lot in this post. I have to say that the part about dropping everything and listening to kids resonated with me the most--it was the line: "And then we try to pick up the abandoned cords of our day, to pull what is tied on the ends of these loose strands closer to us" that really mattered to me b/c you grounded the work with the importance of it being all about kids. Great slice.

  2. You articulated what I and many others grapple with daily. I too liked the line of picking up the abandoned cords of our day, to pull them closer. It created a great visual that says it all.

  3. I do this. " I get it, and we have to pick our spots for sure." I make sure I sit at the back in PD and staff meetings, laptop fired up to go, so I can tune in and out and make use of those valuable minutes when something doesn't pertain to me. I have to. I don't have time to do otherwise. Great slice. I am sure many of us agree. :)

  4. I'll bet you could teach me a lot about technology! I'm still in "dino" mode -- still learning how to use all these great new tools at my fingertips! I don't like that stupid, huge, grey desk though. I'd like to have that space in the corner for a cool artsy rug or more bookshelves!

  5. When I was a principal, I could received 150 to 200 emails in a day - nearly everyone of those emails wanted or needed something. I would have to check early in the morning before I left the house to see if there would be something urgent when I arrived (didn't want surprises), and then of course throughout the day and evening. I also thought that teachers and principals are one of the few jobs where after you worked 6-7 hours and the students were gone for the day that you were expected to work another full day in order to complete everything that was due.