Advice for Teachers Who Are Changing Grade Levels

What’s Here

Looking for advice on changing grade levels? You’ll find information on organizing your materials, finding resources for your new grade level, and adjusting to the change.

“How Could They Move Me?!”

One of the most frequently viewed blog posts I’ve written is called Switching grades: teacher needs vs. school needs. If you are stuck in that “I can’t believe I’m being moved to another grade!” phase, definitely check that post out. In it, I explore the various reasons teachers get moved and whether or not it’s fair to them when that happens. In the comments, you’ll hear from dozens of teachers who are struggling with this exact problem.

Advice for Teachers Who Are Making Extreme Grade Level Changes

Recently as part of my monthly Ask Angela Anything post series, a site visitor submitted the following question. Since so many teachers can relate to this, I wanted to give this topic its own separate page on my website, and I decided to answer it below.

I have taught elementary, 1st -2nd, all of my 13 years of teaching. Before I had my own family it was early childhood. Now I’ve been told I’m teaching 5th grade!!! I’m truthfully scared silly. I don’t want to be unprofessional and say I won’t do well and probably don’t have a choice anyway. What do I do to even start to get ready? Thank you for any advice you can give me both for how this works professionally and for teaching that grade.
-JJ 

I moved up from PreK to 3rd one year and went through the same type of panic. What if the kids don’t listen to me? What if they’re smarter than me? But right away (as in, by the end of the first morning), I realized that good teaching is good teaching and started falling into a rhythm with the kids. You will be amazed at how quickly you adapt your teaching style and learn what works with your new grade level. Really!

Try to meet with another 5th grade teacher in your school or district over the summer and do some curriculum mapping and planning. Don’t pressure yourself to develop amazing lessons for every unit and every subject. Pick the one you are weakest in and focus on that this year; if you’re in 5th again next year, work on another subject area.

I think the best thing you can do is embrace all the ways that teaching 5th grade is easier and more fun than teaching younger grades, and keep reminding yourself of those factors. Don’t think about what you’re missing with the little ones–focus on all the cool collaborative projects you can do in 5th grade, and the wonderful in-depth discussions you’re going to have. No more tying shoes and a lot less tattling. There are some GREAT things about teaching older kids! Who knows–you might even realize 5th grade is your new niche!

How to Stay Organized When Changing Grade Levels

Here’s a related question that was also recently asked:

What would you recommend to teachers who are continuously being moved from one grade to another? How would you organize with so many changes? During my summer break I will try to organize by subject.  At this time, I don’t know where I’ll be or what grade I will be teaching.  Any pointers? Thank you for your wonderful ideas!
–Alba

Hi, Alba! Being moved to other grade levels can be very tough organizationally. I think using your summer break to organize your materials by subject is a great idea! Anything you have that you can’t use in your new grade level can be stored in boxes, one for each subject area. Since you’re not sure what grade you’ll be teaching yet, try to have smaller boxes for a range of grade levels that you place inside the subject area boxes. So for example, anything that could be used for the full K-6 range can be placed in your larger science box, alongside a small box for primary grades science stuff and a small box for upper grades science stuff.

This will be a nice opportunity to clear out clutter and get rid of stuff you’re not using, and I think you’ll find that a lot of the materials can be used for multiple grade levels. If you end up teaching a higher grade next year, you can use your current materials to provide additional small group support for struggling students, and if you teach a lower grade level, your current materials can be placed in centers or otherwise used to challenge high-achievers and differentiate instruction. The Lesson Materials and Files page of my website has photos of how I organize the materials currently being used for each subject. Hopefully that will give you ideas about what types of containers you can use and how to store everything. All the best to you in your new grade level!

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Check out the free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

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