By Andrew Hawk
As school populations shift and change after each school year, principals must make key decisions on how to arrange their staffs/members into grade levels. In some cases, this will leave teachers shifting grade levels or subjects. During my teaching career, I have witnessed teachers change grades for a variety of reasons, including being “riffed” (reduction in force), wanting to change buildings, and relocating to a new city. In addition, I have witnessed many teachers taking a job in a grade level they did not really want to teach simply to get hired.
Personally, I started out teaching first grade. My principal then asked me to move to fifth grade because he wanted to hire a teacher who was only licensed to teach kindergarten through third grade. A year later, he asked me to move to second grade. And in each of the following two years, my family and I relocated to different cities, leaving me working as a resource room teacher one year and teaching a self-contained room for students on the Autism spectrum the following year. So, in the first five years of my teaching career, I held five different positions. Each time I changed positions, I had to move classrooms. Although this amount of moving around is stressful, I learned a great deal. Here are some tips that I hope will make your transition easier if you find yourself moving grade levels or subjects.
Contact colleagues. Grade-level collaboration is vital to the success of any school. Whenever you are coming into a new job, contact your grade level team members as soon as possible. They can fill you in on things like field trips, special programs, and how they utilize the learning resources available. When I moved from first grade to fifth grade, a team member advised me to familiarize myself with our reading program’s pacing guide. This advice proved vital as the fifth-grade series was laid out completely differently from the first-grade series.
Familiarize yourself with educational standards. As you most likely know, educational standards are different for each grade level. When I moved from first grade to fifth grade, the change in standards felt drastic. The difference from, say, third grade to fourth grade would be much subtler. Still, I recommend reviewing the standards and making notes about differences.
Review learning resources. It is important to review the educational standards first. Sometimes states change their education standards, and it takes the textbook companies time to catch up. This forces teachers to supplement their learning resources. Check for places you need to supplement and get an idea for how you would like to lay out units.
Retool your classroom library. I am not suggesting you get rid of everything or that you need to run out and buy a ton of books. However, if you make a drastic change in your grade level, similar to when I went from first to fifth, many of the books you have may not be suitable. I recommend boxing them up and storing them. It is okay to start the year with a small classroom library or even no classroom library. Many teachers do this when the transition comes suddenly.
Think about classroom layout. Classroom layout is mostly decided by an instructor’s teaching style. However, I have never seen a kindergarten class that was similar to a third-grade class. An experienced educator can probably make an accurate guess on the grade level of a classroom by looking around the room for a few minutes. Reflect on the needs of your new age group and start forming ideas.
Send out a welcome letter. News travels fast in communities. When a teacher joins a school or switches grades, it gains the interest of stakeholders. Write and distribute a friendly welcome letter to put everyone’s minds at ease. You do not necessarily have to talk about why you moved grade levels. Typing something like, “Due to the lower enrollment in second grade, I am now teaching fourth grade,” can give the impression that you are disgruntled because you were forced into moving grades. Even if this is true, no good can come from advertising it to parents and students. I recommend a short blurb about being excited for a change and a chance to try new things.
Get to know your schedule. Schedules are different in every grade level. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with your schedule and how to make the best use of your planning period. If you have some input into your schedule, you can start thinking about the best times for your reading and math lessons.
Plan an icebreaker. Some icebreakers can be used in any grade, while others are better suited to specific age groups. Pick one that is perfect for your new grade level. I have found that giving groups of students a bunch of objects and challenging them to build the tallest tower works well for all age groups, from kindergarteners to adults.
Make lesson plans. This might be a personal preference, but all the times when I had to move grades or subjects, I felt a lot more relaxed after I completed my lesson plans for the first week of school. I have learned to do this while reviewing resources. If your school has a set curriculum map, you will need to review it first. If not, you will want to first lay out a long-term plan for at least the first grading quarter, and then look at the first week.
These tips assume that you are getting advanced notice of moving grade levels. Of course, this is not always the case. If you are put in a situation where you must transition with little or no time to prepare, you will need to rely on your grade-level colleagues. Sometimes people are hesitant to reach out for help for fear of looking unprepared. The needs of your students must come before this notion.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for sixteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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