Desks and Pretend Desks

In our middle school we have pretend desks. They became a thing a few years ago, shaped like a triangle and doubling as an ideal way for students to play cards with three people, not that we ever play cards in school.

The pretend desks are versatile, able to be maneuvered to form larger quads with four of them fitted together, or put into pairs with two desks either facing one another or side-by-side. Each desk is on wheels that can be rolled into position and then locked. They offer a bored teacher the opportunity to reconfigure a classroom in ways that leave the students confused and anxious.

The pretend desks do not have any enclosed storage area underneath, although there is a hook that no one can see, or pay attention to, underneath the pretend desk top that they can hang their backpack strap from…although no one does!

It’s difficult for pretend desk to be scratched up and graffitied, although I see the wheels spinning in a few suspect students eyes, as if they are devising a master plan of destruction. So far no one has been able to leave messages like “Billy Bob sat here!” or “Johnny and Jenny Forever!”

Pretend desks are not like the desks we had in a long ago time in uncarpeted classrooms, governed by silver-haired ladies wearing wing-tipped glass frames, toned-down dresses that no one noticed, and uncomfortable footwear.

Those desks, constructed of wood and metal were nailed to the floor to keep nicely-neat rows that communicated order, discipline, and the seriousness of education. After all, we were there to learn our ABC’s, theorems, and how to tell the difference between an adverb and an adjective. No time to waste on the dilly-dally of useless laughter and idle chatter.

Our desks were strong, like a Mayberry jail cell that kept its occupant corralled and out of circulation. We’d have to resort to slipping notes to one another if we needed to get a message to one of our classmates. We became sneaky before technology ever entered the classroom.

In elementary school, our desks had tops that opened up like a Tupperware container. We were able to store all of our earthly school possessions inside: textbooks, pencils, notebooks, crayons, and a few trinkets. We’d still lose things, but we rarely heard the words, “Someone stole my notebook!” If it was inside your desk it was as if there was a “No Trespassing” sign on it. Plus, there was that nicely-contoured groove at the top that you were able to place your pencil in.

Of course, it also allowed us to hide a few things from our teacher, who would be consumed with the teaching of how to identify a dangling participle. In the newer pretend desks with no covered space, students have made their laps and the underside of a pant leg as the go-to spots of cell phone secrecy.

I’m torn between the advantages of present flexibility of moveable pretend desks and the stoic strength of the old. My traditionalism draws me toward what was, the memories of my youth, but our pretend desks tell me of new possibilities and the potential to rethink, redo, and move ahead.

In fact, as I head over to my classroom this morning I’ll be moving pretend desks to new spots as a new week approaches. It gets me slightly excited. Just call me weird.

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