I will never forget the day that my vice principal told me that I would be teaching Grade 6 for the next school year. At the time, I was teaching a Grade 1/2 class. I had been a K-2 teacher for 11 years. I loved teaching primary. I loved my students, and their parents, and the excitement of a primary classroom. I absolutely, positively loved my job! So why the change?
The truth is that I asked for it. Lisa Neale, a wonderful principal in our Board, gave me some good advice, and I took it. My plan to move grades was not about short-term decisions. It was about long-term options. I needed experience in the Junior grades, and I’m very glad that I asked for it. I’m also very glad that I had two terrific administrators that believed in me and gave me this opportunity. I would never have experienced the Junior grades without them.
I’ll admit that when I went to talk to them about the option of moving to Grade 6, and when I later heard that this was official, I felt like throwing up. I mean I really felt like throwing up!🙂 How was I ever going to teach Grade 6? I spent my days with students that enjoyed my finger plays, rhymes, and songs. I got excited over paint, glue, markers, and wonderful picture books. I beamed when students learned to “really read,” and I knew that I had played a part in that learning. I had the BEST snowsuit dressing competition around, and I actually looked forward to my timer game. And now what? How could I adjust to students that would hate my singing, already know how to read, and choose to wear shorts outside on the coldest day of the year? (Yes, I’m exaggerating, but not by much!:))
The truth is that this adjustment was hard. I learned a lot last year, and I’m continuing to learn even more this year in Grade 5. Do I have some favourite grades to teach? Yes! But am I happy that I’ve made every decision that I have over the years to change grades? An EVEN bigger yes! In my 13th year of teaching, I have now taught every grade from Kindergarten-Grade 6 in one way or another (either through prep coverage or as my homeroom class). Here are my biggest take-aways from all of these experiences:
1) Topics overlap between the grades: know what comes before and what comes after you. This will help you understand the students’ prior knowledge and their starting point for learning.
2) I’d teach primary differently now having taught junior. I’ve seen where the needs lie. I’ve seen what comes next. I know what I’d need to change.
3) Primary helped me teach junior. It helped me with the changes that I made to make my program better. It helped me see the value of integration, and how I can do this to best meet student needs.
I say all of this because when talking to a parent on the weekend, she asked me what I was teaching for next year. Next year seems so far away right now, and yet, it won’t be long until this topic comes up. When she asked, I said, “I honestly don’t know yet. Staffing hasn’t been discussed yet.” And it hasn’t. But as a teacher I’m always thinking, and what I think tonight is this: every teaching experience I’ve had has been a great one! Every teaching experience has made me a better teacher. Big changes or small, I’ve loved them all. I have no doubt that no matter what happens for next year, I’ll feel the same way!
If you had a chance, would you change grades? How do you feel about making big changes? What big changes have you made, and what have you learned from them? I’d love to hear your stories!
I totally agree with you. Changing grades is always a big step and usually met with a lot of worry in the beginning, but I think it helps people stay current and always trying something new. I know my experiences in kindergarten & grade 1 has helped me with routines for my junior kids. I do think however some people are just better with certain age groups and why force them into a totally uncomfortable situation. I know that to learn we should always be a bit uncomfortable but I think everyone has a point at which to much change is to much. I know I personally would have a tough time going back to the lower primary grades because I like the interactions I have daily with my older students. What the change to older grades has made me realize is that I may want to continue to work with older students into the intermediate grades.
Thanks for the comment, Ian! This is a good point. I guess that if someone is really against making a change, I’d ask why. Being a little bit uncomfortable with a change is not necessarily a bad thing, but if that change is not going to benefit students, then is it worth making?
Thank you for sharing what your changes have taught you. While you now know that you would like to possibly move up even further in the grades, I think that I’d say the exact opposite. It sounds as though we had a similar starting point in teaching, but now both of our situations/feelings/desired next steps are different.
I always find this discussion on change to be such an interesting one …
This year I was in the same boat as you last year except I moved to primary. To be honest when I started teaching I didn’t think I would ever do it. When I first started I felt that the primaries were just too little, in fact I still think that but now I think I could handle it. However, that being said the change was probably the best thing I ever did. It’s been great seeing the development of younger students and it has made me a better teacher. Like you coming down from junior I am able to assess needs and know what growth is expected in a couple of years. I think that my students are more independent and able to critically think, which I hope will prepare them for the junior grades. I also think that when I do move back up to junior or intermediate I will have a better understanding of asking better questions, and integrating more into my program.
Change is good and important for all of us. It allows us to see and develop as teachers and people. Those who cannot change cannot learn and grow. Thanks for sharing your growth and learning.
Thank you for sharing your experiences, Jonathan! I’ve said for the past couple of years that I think I’d do a better job at teaching primary now because of my junior experience. You’ve actually “shown” why that is and what that looks like through your experiences. As hard as change is, I think it’s so important for all of us. It’s what helps make us better at what we do!
Could I? Would I?
Had you asked these questions about a year ago…the answer would have been an unequivocal NO thank you. I had taught grades one and two for years and loved it. But about a year ago, the universe had different plans for me…and I am so glad it did. For many reasons, I decided to really go out on a limb and change everything I was comfortable with. And as you know…I mean *everything*. A very small school to a large school. A quiet, fairly affluent neighbourhood to one of the most needy postal codes in our city. A school where the predominant language was English to a school where many cultures of the world are represented. And the biggest change of all…regular class to the new world of special education.
It has been a huge adjustment…and a difficult one at times….but a change that I do not for one second regret making. I have learned so much in the past five months. I am not a new teacher by a long shot. I am fifteen years in to my career. However, forcing myself to learn something totally new has been such a great growing experience for me. I have learned that you are never too old to learn, that change is so good for you, that sometimes being too comfortable is not productive and how lucky we are to work with people who are willing to take a chance with a “newbie” and to mentor them along on an exciting journey of learning.
I am grateful that I threw comfort and caution to the wind. I am excited about what the next few years hold for me. And although it was the scariest leap of faith I have ever made, I am so glad I jumped.
Thanks for your comment, Amy, and for sharing your story! I love your willingness to make this change and your very positive attitude about it. Your story is a great one to show the value in making these “leaps of faith!” (And I have to say that those students are INCREDIBLY lucky to have such a wonderful teacher!)