Chris Margolin

The Teacher’s Desk: A Chamber of Secrets

“Confessions of an Educator” columnist Chris Margolin takes a peek inside a teacher’s drawers.


During my freshman year of high school, I found a boatload of prescription pills inside an Altoids tin in my teacher’s desk. I was genuinely going for a mint, but when I finished staring down inside the tin, Ms. Teacher walked through the door and, I’ll tell you, I’ve never really seen an expression like that. Her mouth wasn’t quite open or closed, and her arms were frozen in mid-stride. And then she realized she was the teacher. She walked over to me, snapped closed the tin, slammed it back inside her drawer, and pointed for me to leave the room.

No words were spoken and I slinked out the door, not really knowing exactly what had happened—just knowing it wasn’t good. It was only important in that I felt I’d done something wrong, which I had, by going through her desk. I knew they were pills, but I had no idea what they were or if they were prescribed to her. I was too young to think about those types of things. I was mostly concerned about whether or not she would call my parents. But she didn’t, and not one more word was uttered about what had happened.

It wasn’t the first time I’d fished around in a teacher’s desk. In 8th grade, I found a bottle of vodka inside my math teacher’s desk. Granted, at the time, I was erasing and “correcting” grades in her grade book; so when she walked in and saw me ogling a fifth of something that definitely wasn’t water, I was given a week of detention and, in return, my grade would go right back to where it was. Again, I never said anything for fear of the phone call home. After she retired, the rumor was that she opened a Harley Davidson dealership. That makes sense to me.

I once worked with a teacher who was found with porn inside his drawer—both magazines and videos. I don’t know how it was discovered, but I do remember the small pile of things being taken out of the room. It would not surprise me if a student had been searching for their metaphorical mint. He didn’t last much beyond that moment, and one can only wonder what he did when the final bell sounded. Yuck.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie Bad Teacher, but the idea of hiding the out-of-school behaviors inside a desk drawer is nothing new. It’s not that everything found inside a teacher’s desk drawer is something illicit. But, it is true that what’s hidden inside those drawers are typically remnants of a previous night’s activities or things that were accidentally brought to work which we promise ourselves we’ll take home after work, but there’s a difference between what is acceptable and what is porn. We have to be a lot more diligent when we empty our pockets at work.

Teachers keep eye drops and Advil in their drawers, Pedialite in the fridge behind the desk, an extra razor to shave away the weekend scruff. Mints. Deodorant. Mouthwash. Makeup. Extra clothes. Important papers never to be found. A teacher’s desk drawers become a chamber of secrets—the abyss into which everything is revealed and all is lost. Except to the student who may come around looking for a mint.





Chris Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter. 

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