I taught K-2 for 11 years before I moved up to the junior grades. After a couple of years of teaching Grades 5 and 6, I’m now back in Grade 1 … and I’m loving it! I can’t help but wonder if my years in junior have made an impact on me as a primary teacher. I see this impact in a few different ways, but most noticeably, in my new ability to “let go.”
I used to plan and control everything in my primary classroom.
- Students had assigned spots at tables and desks.
- Students had assigned spots on the carpet.
- There was a line-up schedule, with rotating positions as the “leader” and the “caboose.”
- There were assigned jobs: from those that swept the room to those that brought down the attendance for the day or even the week.
- Students were assigned places to eat at lunchtime.
- There were strict bathroom break times.
- There was even a schedule for washing hands.
Everything felt regimented, and I was the one making all of the decisions.
This seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Grade 1 students are young. They’re used to support from parents and educators. The problem is though that I felt like my whole job was policing routines. As students grow up they need to learn how to take more responsibility. How do they learn this if we don’t give them the opportunity to have this independence?
Yes, students make mistakes. They don’t always act responsibly. Sometimes they need more teacher support. Not all students are ready for this independence at the same time, and some students, may need this scaffolded for them. (These points can be true regardless of age.) But what I’ve noticed is that overall, students take this responsibly seriously. They’re learning from their mistakes. They’re learning to make better choices. They love the grown-up feeling that they get from being responsible, and I love seeing just what Grade 1 students can do!
After a couple of years of teaching older students and seeing “responsibility potential,” I believe that these skills should be developed before the junior grades. As teachers, what do we really need to control and how can we give students more control? What do you do? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic!