It was more than I could take. I returned to the classroom after delivering my kids to Music class to find one of the desks crammed SO full of stuff that the lid couldn’t be closed. How could he even sit there and use it with the lid inclined four inches in the air? I thought about the previous few days. I asked him to clean it out. I told him to clean it out. I pleaded with him to clean it out! I realized the bitter truth. He was not going to clean it out. He was due for an Excavation.
I gathered my materials. I pulled the recycling bin and the trash can over to his desk and set two chairs to the side to hold various piles. I took a deep breath and dove in.
The top layer was the Keeping a Tree in My Desk layer. I pulled out enough blank lined notebook paper to write a novel. A very long novel. No wonder we didn’t have any paper left in our writing center! What in the world was he planning to do with all that paper? He certainly wasn’t using it to write–when Writing Workshop started every day he magically transformed from an erratic sort of ferret personality into a bona fide three toed sloth. He moved so slowly that typically the only progress he made during writing time was oozing from his chair over to half-heartedly sharpen a pencil and back again. No need for hoarding so much blank paper. Fortunately most of it was salvageable and could be returned to a neat stack in the writing center, although a good share of it was crumpled into fluffy paper wads.
Under the stash of paper was the Library Layer–a log jam of books pushed into every corner. Again, these weren’t books he had been actually reading. He was currently making his way through a Magic Tree House book with goals about building his stamina and sticking to a book for longer than a few pages. That book was safely in his book bin on the shelf. Most of the books he chose to look at otherwise were huge dinosaur books filled with facts. But these books were random and not ones he would typically give a second look. (Fancy Nancy…seriously?). Why were they buried in his desk? I pulled books out that we hadn’t seen for weeks. When I pulled out the Hilo book that other kids had been desperately looking for since Christmas, my frustration grew.
The next layer was the Surplus of Useless Writing Utensils. I tossed about 40 broken nubs of pencils, dried out markers, crayon bits, and random marker lids. I salvaged any pencils that could be usable and collected them to the side. For a kid who never seemed to have a pencil, I found two unopened packages of pencils pushed to the back.
The bottom layer was the Nesting Layer. It was composed of paper bits, ripped up eraser parts, water bottle lids, Halloween party favors, PBIS tickets, and shredded Kleenex. I almost expected to find a half-eaten sandwich or a small creature living there–and I was grateful that I didn’t.
I don’t usually ever excavate a student’s desk on my own. I know they won’t get the message unless we do it together and talk about being organized. This time I just needed to have that immediate satisfaction of calming the chaos. It gave me peace. It gave me a sense of order restored. And it gave me a whole lot of notebook paper as well as our missing Hilo book!
In the end, my student appreciated his new internal desk environment. He was surprised to find some possessions he hadn’t seen for months, and he promised to do his best to keep organized. I know he will try…but I keep the recycling bin close by, just in case.
This badge means I fly by the seat of my pants when figuring out what to write for my Slice of Life. Combined with the “Late Night Poster” badge I need to also add, this should make you all wonder how I manage to get this accomplished by the deadline at all. By the skin of my teeth, no doubt…