Today I fixed a desk.

March 4, 2021

Today, I covered a class for a colleague who needed to be away. It started off simply enough. I took attendance, gave the instructions, and the students settled in to work independently. After a couple of minutes, I noticed a very annoying squeaking sound coming from somewhere in the room. I asked the students about it, and judging by their responses, there had been a desk that squeaks whenever a student writes for basically the entire year, and they had all learned to ignore it.

I, personally, hate squeaking sounds. I decided to fix it. I asked the student seated at that desk if there were screws, and what kind. I found an appropriate screwdriver, and within ten minutes, no more squeak. The class of grade 12 students looked at me like I was an alien with mystical powers.

This struck me. As I was exiting the classroom to return the screwdriver, I stopped in the doorway and turned to them (they were all still staring at me), and I simply said: If you do not try to solve problems, they do not get solved.

The students made no comment, and when I returned to the room, they were all working away quietly as if nothing had happened. But, I cannot stop thinking about this simple interaction. This says a lot about how we behave as teachers, and how we teach. Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that it is a teacher’s responsibility to fix squeaky desks. What I am saying is that humans (both teachers and students) often give up on solving problems before we have even tried. We do this for many reasons. Perhaps, we are exhausted and do not have the head space to even consider solving it. Perhaps we believe that the issue is not our problem (and this is fine, but if we want the issue to be solved, we may have to then inform the parties whose job it is to solve this). Or, perhaps, we just never considered that if we took two minutes to think about a solution that the problem could be solved, and everyone would be happier for it.

The desk could have been broken. The screw could have been stripped. It could have been a defect that I could not repair. But unless I tried to solve it, or even gave it a modicum of thought beyond “That desk is annoying,” I would never know.

I want my students to have the agency to consider solving problems. Some things are not within our sphere of influence. This is a fact, but it is so easy to comfort ourselves with the idea that “This is not my job,” or “This is outside my sphere of influence,” without taking the time to check and see if it truly is.

Change happens because someone decides to make a change. If you have an issue, spend some time on it if you have the mental space. A solution may not be far out of reach if only you give it a little thought.

Leave a Reply