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What does your teacher desk look like? And what does that say about you? If it’s a mess, it probably just means you have other priorities. In this episode, Cassie talks about how to avoid that teacher desk battle and embrace the mess that sometimes comes with being creative. Listen as she discusses the setup of her desk, what her workspace looks like, and how to approach your desk if you finally want to be organized. Full episode transcript below.
Cassie: The other day I was getting ready to leave school and I walked by my desk and I just had to stop and shake my head. I don’t know what your art teachering desk looks like, if you can even find it, because let’s be honest, mine is usually buried under a plethora of the weirdest stuff you have ever seen. It’s like the most eclectic bunch of just junk strewn upon a surface that you can imagine. You can imagine because I’m pretty sure a lot of y’all’s desk looks the same. I remember I paused for a moment. I thought I should really tidy my desk because that is not going to be something that I want to walk in first thing tomorrow morning and look at. And instead of cleaning it, I decided to take a picture of it and share it on Instagram to see if anybody else could commiserate with the state of my desk.
And I remember as I was walking out of school, I walked through the office and I walked past our school secretary’s notoriously, famously, infamously tidy desk. This desk, I’m afraid actually to even get a little bit too close for fear that I might, just with the mere movement of my body, cause one of those little sheets of paper to get off-center or fly off her desk. Heaven forbid even a little speck of dust be out of place. It is a thing of glory, I’ve never seen and will never be able to comprehend a surface so stinking neat. And I thought to myself, what is that even like? What is that life like? And just as I thought, when I posted the picture of my desk on social media I was met with a lot of confirmations that yes indeed, this is actually what a lot of we creative types, what our desks look like.
In fact, I was so inspired by the state of my desk that I just thought I would Google quotes about a tidy desk. Surely I thought there’s going to be somebody out there who’s going to shame me with some glorious quote about why I should be keeping a much better desk. But you know who came to my rescue? Good old Albert Einstein. Listen to this quote. “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what then is an empty desk a sign of?” I mean, I’m not going to share that quote with my school secretary because she’s pretty stinking awesome, but I was feeling much better about the state of my desk. Let’s talk about our school desk. I know especially at the end of the year it is not a thing to behold. It is more like a train wreck to witness. I’m Cassie Stephens, we’re going to talk about our messy desks and this is Everyday Art Room.
You know with me you’re pretty much going to get what you get. You know what I’m saying? I’m never going to tell you a story about myself or try to paint a pretty picture of what it is you see here. I have no problem admitting that I am a mess. My desk also looks like my purse, which looks like all the contents inside have had a fabulously messy party and then just decided never to clean up after themselves.
My car console is sad. It’s got strange sticky items. What is that? I don’t even know. My book bag, which I’m sitting here staring at … Instead of cleaning my book bags out, I just start accumulating more. I’m now up to three book bags. It’s no wonder I have to go to a chiropractor. They also are insane looking. And the inside of my microwave and my refrigerator, horrifying. I don’t know what the smells are. I don’t want to know. I just kind of put things in both receptacles and use them and try not to look and see what’s growing in there. It’s usually that doggone fuzzy cup of coffee that I lost on Friday, only to find on Monday in my microwave, which now has a nice glorious green film on top. I’m sorry, I’m just being real with y’all. Which also looks like every closet in my house.
Everything is pretty much a mess. At any point in time I can be found looking for my car keys, my laptop, a cord. Good heavens, I am forever losing my computer cords. Why can’t all the cords just be the same? Why do we all have to be different? How is it so difficult? It’s the 2000-and-somethings, let’s get it together. Regardless, I’m pretty stinking messy. And so in thinking about that last week and taking that picture and discovering that quote by Einstein, I was starting to think I wanted to just make a list. What do all these miniature dumpster fires that I have managed to surround myself with, what do I feel like that says about me?
So I made a little list. It said to me, my messy desk and other messy areas, said to me that I have priorities, and my priorities do not include cleaning. If all of y’all who sometimes throw it out to me, “Cassie, how do you get so much done? How do you get so much sewing done or creating done?” First of all, that’s all smoke and mirrors. I don’t get a lot done. I spend an enormous amount of time wasting time. I happen to have a lot of projects going at once. I’ll finish one random one and it literally looks like I pulled it out of the air when in fact I’ve been working on it for a long while. But priorities, I like to think that I have them. They don’t involve cleaning. They are usually elsewhere, like creating.
So that’s what I was thinking my messy desk and area has to say about me. I’ve got priorities. I’m way too busy. I always cannot stand it when people say, “I am so busy,” and yet that is the excuse that I use all the stinking time. I’m so busy that I couldn’t do X, Y, Z, but yet I managed to find enough time to puffy paint a skull on a pair of boots for the pirate art show. Huh. Interesting. I am visually oriented. I would like to think that my messy desk says that about me. I have to have everything where I can see it. If I can’t see my stuff, all of my stuff, then I think that I don’t have it and then I go out and purchase multiples. Anybody else like that? I probably have five bottles of that said glittery gold puffy paint because I can’t remember if I’ve got it or not or don’t even know where it is.
Then I started thinking a little bit more realistically, maybe beating myself up a little bit. Perhaps my messes say about me that I’m just messy. I mean, that’s pretty obvious. Maybe I’m irresponsible. Yeah, the adulting thing I’m not real great at and yeah, I’m pretty irresponsible. This will give you a good idea how irresponsible I am. I was sitting in my room the other day after school working on art show stuff. It was a little after 4:30. My music teacher buddy walks in and she says, “So you’re just going to start skipping faculty meetings now?” Oh yeah, there was a faculty meeting. I wrote it down somewhere, probably put it on my desk on a Post-it Note. Couldn’t tell you where it was. Yeah, irresponsible. And that I also lack discipline.
So you’ll notice that my list of things about me and what my messy desk says about me, goes from being positive, “I have priorities, I’m too busy being creative,” to kind of beating myself up a little bit, but a little bit rightfully so. And I finished my list with, “Well, at least I’m cute.” That’s debatable, but I was just trying to make myself feel better. So if you’re like me and you’ve got a messy desk and you’ve got, let’s be honest, kind of a messy life and that you’ve just got stuff everywhere, what are some of the keys to, I don’t want to say change because I’m 44. If I haven’t changed changed by now, I don’t think it’s going to happen for me. But there has got to be a way to making this kind of situation, make it work for me instead of a constant battle that I feel like I’m always fighting, where I’m always struggling to find my keys. I’ve lost a pair. I’ve never found them. Always struggling to keep up with paperwork, find anything.
How can I make a system, create a system that will work for me? And the reason I’m sharing that today is because I feel like a lot of us creative types, we have this in common. In fact, I was just looking online a moment ago what your desk says about you. And one website was talking quite a bit about how a person with a disorganized or messy desk is usually a person who’s more creative. An innovator. A person with a lot of thoughts and a lot of things that they’re trying to work out and work through. And so, other people who don’t have messy desks, they don’t quite understand that, we’ll call it a lifestyle, that crazy creative kind of lifestyle because they aren’t necessarily outside-of-the-box thinkers. The people who think within the confines of the box normally have a really tidy desk. Now I’m totally categorizing here and over-simplifying, but that generalization I feel like holds a lot of weight.
Something that I did read though, and I found this to be very interesting, was it said that a messy desk, if messy with trash or garbage, not things like little slips of paper with ideas, but literal old candy wrappers, things that should be in the trash, if those kind of things are littering your desk and littering your life, it could be a sign of depression. And if you feel like that is the case, there’s obviously absolutely nothing wrong with that. But seeking out a source, finding someone to speak to, to talk to outside of a family and friends realm, but like a professional, might be something that you might want to investigate. Just throwing it out there. Mental health, especially for us teachers who have to be present for kids every single day, is vital.
So all joking aside about a messy desk, if this is something that you feel like you are battling, if you’re looking at your desk and you’re realizing, wow, this isn’t creativity, this is dirty, this is messy. This is me being in a place that I can’t seem to get myself out of and I don’t know why and I don’t know how I got here. I’m being really serious because I’ve been in that place before. And so just wanting to take a break, interrupt my goofball little chat here and just say you definitely need to find somebody to talk to about that.
But that’s not the case with my desk. My desk is littered, in fact, it’s art show land for me. It’s littered with half finished clay projects, half finished projects, sharpies, Expo markers. In fact, I was clearing it off today because I’m having an art show tomorrow and I don’t want my desk to represent my insane brain. So I literally just took a plastic bin, put it at the bottom of my desk and just took one of those arms sweeps and swept it all inside. And I thought, “I will deal with this later.” And by “later,” I mean August. Because let’s be honest, after this art show, your girl right here, she going to be so checked out until May 23rd. That’s right, you heard me, May 23rd is my last day. Don’t hate, I went back to school on August 1st.
So as I’m trying to think about the end of the year, I always like to think about what the beginning of the next school year is going to look like, and that brings me back to what do I want my desk to look like next year so it’s not this constant battle of a disaster that I leave for Monday Cassie to deal with because Friday Cassie didn’t give a flying flip. So for me personally, I know that to get my desk in order, I cannot keep anything important on my desk because it is just going to get swallowed up in some sort of weird black hole. I love to have a calendar. My secretary has one of these, you know the neat and tidy lady? She has one of those giant desk calendars and I envy her so for it, because her life is detailed out on this thing. And I want to be that amazingly organized.
I’ve bought at least three of those desk calendars in my lifetime since becoming a teacher. I lay it on my desk and then I promptly never see it again. Why? Because I’m a stacker, I’m a piler, and anything that’s important cannot be placed on my desk. So any supplies that I constantly need or even don’t need on the daily but need often, or a giant calendar, it can’t stay on my desk. It’s going to vanish. It’ll disappear. So for me, I know that a wall calendar works best for me. For me, last summer what I did, because I have so many art supplies, like you, at home, my home desk and my home studio, I kept piling little cute cans and canisters of markers, colored pencils, chalk, because to me, these are things that I need.
Next thing you know, and I actually have for my desk in my studio, I have one of those giant long foldout cafeteria tables. That’s my workspace. Imagine that long space virtually vanishing because I piled all of my cute little cans and canisters of supplies all over it. I can’t do that. Pretty soon I was tipping them over. I was stacking things on top. They started vanishing. I was mixing up the supplies in all the cute little cans. It was a disaster. That’s when I got some pegboard. I figured out how to hang it on my wall. I got fun little hooks from the hardware store and all those cute little cans got hung on those cute little hooks. Now I can see everything, nothing is stacked on it, and it’s off my workspace. So that’s one thing that I’ve done that you might want to consider doing if you’re like me.
I read a quote that said that, “Think of your desk as prime real estate.” This really struck home with me. If you think of your desk as prime real estate, only the most important things should be on your desk. At school, for me, that means my document camera, my phone, which I really am going to try to have somebody hang it so that it’s wall-mounted instead of sitting on my desk. It just adds more clutter, my desk is pretty small. And a couple of cans or a couple of little containers of pencils, dry erase markers, paint brushes, the things that I need, scissors, on hand when I’m teaching a lesson at my desk.
For me, my other thing is is that I know I have to keep everything visual, meaning that my supplies have to be where I can see them and that’s where, until I figured out the pegboard thing, I really struggled because I wanted all of my supplies out, so I would put them on a cart or like I said, all over my desk. It just caused more clutter. In our house, my husband, he doesn’t like to have a lot of clutter. Well, unfortunately for him he’s married to me. But I have learned that if I can mount things to a wall, it clears off our floor space and at least creates the illusion that there’s not as much clutter. So I’ve kind of got him fooled in that respect.
And something else that I have learned is that if I don’t keep it on my desk, if I can move it off, like for example my phone or even my Elmo, if I can somehow get that lifted up a little bit and create some sort of space underneath, it’ll free up all of that prime real estate. And then the last thing I think that would be ideal is the whole everything in its place kind of thing. How does that quote go? Keep it in its place? You know where I’m going. Everything has its place. I’m the worst about that. I don’t know about you, but I am what I call a self-sabotager. I will create a place for me to put my keys every single day. I even bought this cute little pouch to always keep all of my phone cords in. I have a special place for this, that and the other. I have established these, it’s not like I haven’t.
But I hate rules. I even hate the rules that I create for myself. And I hate them so much that I won’t even follow the rules I establish for myself. There was a book that I read a couple of years ago and it was all about trying to figure out your specific personality and then use your personality traits to make your life even better. I think it was Creating the Habits that You Love, or something like this. Anyway, one of the personality traits is one called a rebel and virtually the book author said if you’re a rebel, I have nothing for you. You’re a self-sabotager, so you’re basically going to ruin everything, so good luck with that. On with the rest of y’all. That’s me. That’s where I am and I’m pretty sure that a lot of you are the same and that’s just going to have to be a little bit of a battle that we have with ourselves.
It’s so funny to me that I would want to break my own rules. It doesn’t even make sense, so it’s something that I’ve got to work through. But all that to say, that especially at this time of year, if your desk is looking like the biggest, craziest dumpster fire you ever did see, know that I am right there with you. But it’s not just my desk, it’s every storage closet in my room, every drawer and cabinet that you might open. I am here for you. Maybe one of these days, probably not, but maybe one of these days we’re going to get it slightly together, just enough that we maybe can function a little bit easier. But because we have creative priorities, maybe not. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try, try just a little bit to keep this desk from turning into a roaring, raging dumpster fire.
Tim: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio. Hopefully last week you saw when we announced the featured presenter for our Art Ed Now online conference that’ll be happening on July 25th. And our featured presenter is Mr. Ron Clark. Now, if you don’t know Ron Clark, he is a two time New York Times Bestselling author and was dubbed by Oprah Winfrey as her first “Phenomenal Man.” You’re going to love hearing from him as he talks about his career in education, his passion for working with kids and some incredible stories about his founding of the Ron Clark Academy. It will be an exciting and inspirational talk and you do not want to miss it.
You can find out more about the conference, more about Ron Clark, and you can reserve your spot for the conference at artednow.com. The first 2,000 registrants to the conference get a free swag box as well. This is full of products, free samples and test materials to try in your art room. These get taken really quickly, so do not wait to reserve your spot. Once you’re done listening to this podcast, go register for the conference and I promise you it’ll be worth your time. Make sure you check it out now at artednow.com
Cassie: And now it’s time to take a little dip into the mailbag. I lie, I’m not taking any dips into the mailbag, I’m just going to answer some questions that I’ve been getting on my Instagram a lot. Like a lot, a lot. And I’ve been sharing a lot of images and videos, time lapses of me setting up for my art show, and so many of the same questions have been thrown my way that I thought I would just share them here and throw out the answers. So the first one is this. I have been getting a lot of questions on when am I finding time to work on my art show preparations? Because we’re going all out this year.
I like to go into school on Sundays. They actually have church at my school on Sunday, so our building is open and I like to get in early. I love work on a Sunday even though it eats into my weekend. I love it because it’s so quiet and nobody’s there, there’s no interruptions and it’s perfect. So I’m fortunate in that respect to have that option. I know many of you don’t.
Another question I’ve been getting quite a bit is about where else do I find the time? Because some of y’all have noticed that I am setting up for my art show during the school day also. So here’s my little tip that I learned at NAEA many years ago. On the day of your art show, talk to your administration about getting a sub for the day. It will give you an entire day to set up or finish setting up or do those last minute things that you need to do, and also to have a moment to just breathe. I know from many years of experience how stressful it is to set up for an art show. My art show is tomorrow actually, and I have a lot to do. A lot, a lot to do. I’m going through the mental list right now in my head trying not to have a panic attack.
And I’m so thankful that my administration provides me with a sub. Yesterday was Monday and … Oh, no it wasn’t. It was Sunday. Today’s Monday. Oh my gosh. Oh, it’s going to be long. And my specials team covered my classes today. So I actually had two full days to work strictly on my art show. And today, me and another volunteer, we set up one of the spare rooms in my school to make a glow gallery. So thankfully my specials team has my back. They needed our kids to talk about a field trip anyway, so it completely worked out. So even if your admin won’t support you or get you a sub, you might want to chat with your specials team and see if they would consider taking your classes on for the day, if that’s even something that would work in your school.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how often I see my students and how many students I have. So I think the students I have question is coming out of the fact that we showcase every work of art that every student has made all year long. That sounds like an extremely daunting task and it is. But I have 350 students. I work at a very small school. That’s not a crazy number of kids by any stretch. So when you multiply that by the, let’s say, seven to 10 pieces they have, now that starts to sound kind of crazy and high. But it’s not as much as those of you who have like 800 kids or 900 kids, so obviously you’d have to scale it back some. You’ve got to do what works for you.
The other question that I didn’t answer just a moment ago was, How often do you see your students?” because I know a lot of people are looking at the girth of what I’m putting on display and just kind of like, “Holy cats. Do you see them every day? Do they come to art all day long?” No. I see my students for an hour every week. And so sometimes that means they come to me 30 minutes twice a week, or they see me once a week for the full hour.
And then my last question I’ve been getting a lot of is, “What’s your budget?” My budget’s pretty small. It’s $3 a kid. I have 350 kids, so not crazy, but manageable. And that’s why we do fundraisers throughout the year like Artome, and if I had my life together, Artsonia. So those are the questions I’ve been getting a lot. Just thought I’d throw them out there right now and if you’re interested you can probably find … Yeah, by the time this podcast drops, my art show will be over. I will have a ton of images, more than you probably want and video footage of our art show. So feel free to take a peek. If you have any questions for me, you should send them to me. You can find me at Everyday Art Room at theartofed.com.
If you want to feel a little bit better about your life, Google image search “messy desk”. Oh my goodness. I’m a rookie. My messy desk ain’t got nothing on what I’m looking at here. Wow. I actually feel a lot better. You know what? That’s just the key. Just Google messy house, messy desk, messy life, and you’ll be surprised, you are actually ahead of the curve. There’s always a wee bit of room for improvement, but at least it’s not what I’m looking at here. There could be things living under what I’m witnessing. Take care of yourself, guys, and don’t worry about that messy desk. There are other things that are more important. That messy desk is going to be right there waiting for you. Trust me, I know. Mine’s there for me every Monday morning. Have a great week, guys.
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.