In my first year of teaching, I had exactly two days to prepare to teach 9th-12th grade math and literature after having student taught in 1st grade. Halfway through the school year, a teacher was let go and I had exactly 20 minutes (!!!) to prepare to teach her 6th/7th grade combo for the remainder of the school year. Talk about being forced out of your comfort zone! Switching grade levels, regardless of how much time you have to prepare, can be a major stressor. Since my first year of teaching I have either taught or worked with every single grade (yep, K-12). Here are some things about switching grade levels that I’ve learned along the way:
Have a growth mindset
Switching grade levels, especially when it’s not your choice, can be scary. It is totally common to go through a period of grieving. Know that switching grade levels is going to be a learning experience. It will stretch you as an educator. Be open to that stretch. Think of the new ideas you’ll be able to try. Remember that you can (and will) get better at teaching any grade level you are asked to teach. Take risks and be open to making mistakes.
Changing grade levels prevents you from falling into a teaching rut, which is so important to each new group of kids you work with. If you still aren’t convinced that your new grade level will be a great experience, check out this post where we had teachers from all grade levels share what makes their grade level the best.
Use what you’ve learned in other grade levels
Having experience in one grade level will definitely come in handy when you make a move to another grade. There are MANY aspects of teaching that are universal from Kindergarten through high school. Kids value the personal connection you make with them. They want to be engaged. They need structure and feedback.
If you’ve previously taught an older grade, you will know where students should be by the time they reach that grade. You will be able to use backward planning more strategically than a teacher who has never taught an older grade before. You can think about the things your students had never mastered before reaching you (weren’t they SUPPOSED to learn multiplication facts in third grade?) and make an effort to focus on these areas in your new assignment. You may discover that some of your previously-held notions about teachers of a certain grade level were inaccurate.
If you’ve previously taught a younger grade level, you will have a definite advantage that you can use when differentiating. You’ll be able to set up centers and cooperative group activities while keeping the developmental stages of your students in mind. You may be able to reach those kiddos who are less confident or need a more gentle approach.
Any previous teaching experience will serve as an advantage in your new grade level. Just be sure to check in with yourself every now and again to remember all of the knowledge you’ve gathered along the way.
Gain as much knowledge as you can
The unknown is uncomfortable. One thing you can do to help alleviate some of this discomfort is to learn more about the grade you are going to be teaching.
- Read about the grade level – read books, read blogs, read papers written by the age you are going to be teaching.
- If you are able, observe the age you will be teaching. If you are at the same school, ask your principal if you can shadow another teacher for a day.
- Go on Google and Pinterest. Plug in “third grade ______(list subject)” or “common behavior problems _______ (list age)”.
- Find a Facebook group specific to your new grade level. Other teachers will be happy to answer questions, point you in the direction of useful resources, and give you advice.
- Follow Instagram accounts for teachers in your grade level. You will receive visual inspiration and tons of positive vibes.
If you are at a school with more than one teacher per grade level, make an effort to get to know your new team. Share your apprehension and ask for help. Seriously. Ask. For. Help. Your grade level team members will be able to share practical tips and resources to make the transition to your new grade level smoother. Do what your grade level is doing as much as you can in terms of long-term planning, units of study, assessment, etc. Trust the experience of the people who have experience at the grade level. It will save you time and save your sanity.
If you are the only teacher at your grade level, reach out to the vast, network of teachers from your city or state, both in person and online. You can do this through conferences, Facebook groups, school visits, etc.
Whether your school uses Common Core, TEKS, or some other sort of standards, get to know what is expected at your new grade level. Read the standards thoroughly before diving into year-long planning. A common problem when changing grade levels is expecting too much or too little of your new batch of students. Familiarizing yourself with the standards in language arts, math, science, and social studies will increase your confidence and (hopefully!) get you excited for teaching some fresh content. Share work samples with your grade-level team to find out what is considered “proficient” at your particular grade level. If you are looking for a Common Core/NGSS parent, student, and teacher-friendly standards checklist, we have them created for grades K-8 (phew!). You can check them out here.
If it is your first time teaching a certain grade level, know that you will not be able to “do it all” the first year. Learn to be okay with that. Choose a focus for the beginning of the year and add in additional elements as you get a handle on your new grade level. Once you have reached a solid comfort level (which may take an entire school year), start adding in some “extras.” If you try to do too much, too fast, you won’t master anything and your students will may begin mirroring your scattered behavior.
Changing grade levels can be scary and nerve-wracking, while also exciting and invigorating. Just remember, anything that takes you out of your comfort zone will make you a better teacher. We can’t wait to hear your tips and experiences. Feel free to share a comment below!