Boards and Desks: Two Views on Classroom Maintenance

I have conflicting views on two aspects of what I’ll call “Teacher Citizenship.” I have one view on blackboards. I have a conflicting view on desks. I’ll see if by the end of this post I’ve worked that conflict out, but I doubt it.

Erase the Blackboard When You’re Done, Please

I teach at a university. No one here has his or her OWN classroom. We don’t teach often enough for any of us to lay claim to a room of our own. So we all share. I think it’s important to erase the blackboard when you are done teaching. It’s a sign of respect for the next teacher, and it saves that teacher a little time.

That said, I often find what is on the board before my class very interesting. It is

Now this is a pretty messy blackboard!

sometimes physics equations or writing advice or sociology imperatives. Stanley Fish claims his famous “Is There a Text in This Class?” was created from some leftovers on the board from a previous class. 

Still, I erase the board when I’m done. It seems just polite.

But Student Desk Arrangement Is What It Is

I only have the desks in my classes in rows when I’m giving an exam. Otherwise, the desks are in a large circle or arranged in groups. When I enter my classroom, the student desks are always arranged in rows. When I leave, the desks are in groups, a large circle, or scattered willy-nilly throughout the room.

I arrange the desks, or I ask students to arrange the desks, in the manner that will facilitate learning in that particular class. I never want my students in rows, unless I want

This Illinois prison is arranged as a panopticon: the guards can see everyone, but the imprisoned cannot see each other.

them not to be able to see each other but I want to be able to see each of them (that is, in what Foucault taught us is called  a “panopticon“). That only happens when I’m giving an exam, which is once during the semester–at the mid-term.

I resent the idea that rows are the “default” arrangement for a class. The only thing that gives me pause is that many cleaners are required to rearrange classrooms such that the desks are in rows.  So, if I know I am the final teacher of the day, I will ask students to help me rearrange desks so they are in rows. Otherwise, I leave them in whatever arrangement we’ve finished our class in.

Still Conflicted

There you have it. I insist that blackboards be cleaned, but I also refuse to return desks to rows. I leave it to the philosophers (or the lawyers) to figure out if I’m right or if I should be locked away into a panopticon myself. 

What do you think? What arrangements do you expect when you enter or leave your classroom? Give an answer in a comment below.



2 thoughts on “Boards and Desks: Two Views on Classroom Maintenance”

  1. Todd Finley – United States – Edutopia blogger and associate professor.

    Hi Ken,

    I find it interesting that huge classes in college prefer rows (according to a survey I read), while smaller classes prefer the circles and horseshoe design. As in all things, context matters.

  2. Erasing the board is definitely the right thing to do, despite the “cross-cultural” connections one could make seeing other teachers’ work.

    The desks do present more of a problem. Sometimes leaving the desks as is allows the next class to shake things up a bit in a way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise if they choose to not put the desks back in rows. Personally, I hope for a day when there are no desks, only tables and chairs. And, yes, stacking the chairs on the tables is the right thing to do if you’re the last class of the day!

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