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.