Monday, February 16, 2015

What's In Your Desk Drawer? Day 11

What is that thing?

This is a foot pump that I keep in my desk drawer. I actually don't use it that often, but I'm glad it's there when I need it.

Why do I need it? I'm so glad you asked...

I was a middle school math and science teacher for the first eleven years of my teaching practice. I shall I say it? in the classroom. I know there are some teachers who regularly teach sitting down--from their desk even--but that is not me. Those who have seen me in action know that I move A LOT when I teach. Some have even described me as hyperactive. (Okay, that might be fair.) Others have suggested that I am over-caffeinated. (That might be fair too.)

If you visited my classroom when I was teaching science, you might have found me lecturing, but I was probably perched on top of the podium, rather than sitting behind it, or pacing around the room, or scribbling all over the whiteboard. When we were doing lab work, I was roaming the room to check in with individuals. If students were working on their laptops, I was amidst them--both to answer questions, and to keep them on track with their work. What I'm getting at: I was almost always on the move while teaching. I just can't picture myself teaching sitting down!

When I became Technology Coordinator at that school, I found that I sat a lot more--spending time behind my computer monitor--but I still moved around quite a lot. I still taught several computer classes every day, and I was regularly moving from room to room, helping colleagues with their tech problems. But I know I was more sedentary, and I had to be more intentional about getting up and moving around. I even started wearing a pedometer for a while, to help me keep track of my activity.

However, it was when I moved into teaching in higher ed full time that my activity level really began to change. While I was still active and animated while teaching, this active teaching part of my day was far less than it had been before. Suddenly, I found myself at my desk for much more of the time--preparing for lessons, reading, writing, reflecting, marking, marking, marking--and less time actively moving around as I was as a K-12 teacher. My waistline showed it too...I was getting pretty sedentary, and it was affecting my health.

Last spring, I was getting a sore neck, back, and shoulder an awful lot of the time. I realized that I tend to slouch in my chair while sitting at my desk. So not only was I sitting more, I was sitting badly more.

Something had to change.

I started deliberately getting more exercise. I started getting up before 6:00 to get on the treadmill. (Ugh.) I started counting calories too. (Also ugh. I love food...) But it made a real difference! By summer, I had lost 30 pounds, and I was feeling pretty good about myself--both mentally and physically. (Side note: I've been able to keep it off too. Pretty proud of myself for that!)

However, I still had pain in my neck and back. I was still slouching in my chair. So I decided to try something kind of goofy: I got an exercise ball.

I had seen other folks sitting on exercise balls at their desks before, and I have to confess, it always seemed a little silly to me. But I figured I'd give it a shot--it couldn't hurt, right? And I found a pretty well-reviewed ball that was big enough for my super-long legs on Amazon on sale for $20.

When it arrived, I pulled it out of the box, pumped it up (see above,) and tried sitting on it. I about rolled over backwards the very first time, but I caught myself. I had to deflate it just a little so it was less roly-poly.

That first day, I could only sit on it for about half an hour. My abs hurt so bad after that, I had to go back to the regular chair. But I kept at it, day after day. For a while, I alternated between the chair and the ball, about every half hour or so. Soon I was on the ball for an hour or more at a time. Then half the day.

And now, after several months of this, I rarely sit in my chair at all anymore.

This probably doesn't burn a ton of calories, and it probably doesn't have incredible fitness benefits, but I know I move around more now, even as I sit at my desk. And every little bit helps, right? I'm sure my abs and back muscles are in better shape than they have been in years. And as a side benefit--and this is totally anecdotal, with no hard evidence to back it up--I feel like I tend to stay more focused while sitting on the ball. I'm not sure if this is just my own self-perception, but I find I'm better able to stick with a given task while at the desk when I'm on the ball. (Ha! On the ball...get it?)

Yes, it looks silly. Colleagues almost always comment on it, but mostly out of curiosity. When students come to visit in my office, they always look a little bemused. I'm upfront with them about my reasons for it. I think it's been a good thing for me.

Which makes me wonder whether it would be good for other folks who spend a lot of time at desks every day...

Like...maybe our students?

Food for thought...


(This post is part of a series about the weird stuff teachers have in their desk drawers. You can read more about this project here, and I hope you'll share the stories of the weird stuff you have in your desk too!)


  1. As a retired elementary school teacher, I can report having worked with upper grade teachers who replaced their classroom chairs with balls... surely, with varying degrees of success. But, it is an idea that has a place!!!

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I'd love to see a school get a set just to try it out with a class. Maybe an action research project in the making? I be there is a grant for something like this...