5 Quick and Important Pieces of Advice When Switching Grade Levels

I have to admit that switching or changing grade levels as the school year began was nerve racking and very stressful.  Although I'm starting my 31st year of teaching, change is always hard.  I've taught mostly third throughout those years, and for the past decade, it has been teaching third grade.  I've had combination classes along the way (mainly a 3rd-4th combination class), but we have a very unique way of instructing our combination classes, so it was never an issue.  But this year I was assigned a 2nd-3rd-grade combination class and now am teaching a class of just second graders.   So, I offer some advice if you have to switch or are changed grade levels.


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#1 DON'T PANIC!


We may be teachers, but we are also human beings.  Your first reaction is to panic!  You're thinking of all those great lesson plans and units you won't be able to teach this year.  You're thinking of how you're going to have to teach new units and new standards.  You're thinking about all the resources you're going to have to buy, borrow or find around the school.  You think so much it is overwhelming!  It's OK to feel overwhelmed, frustrated and a little sad about leaving your preferred grade.  But you shouldn't panic.  Why? It will lead you to inaction.  You'll waste valuable time that you could be using to make the transition smoother.


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In my school, we have a particular way of handling combination classes.  Usually, a combination class in my school involves just having a few (4-8) kids from the one-grade level combine with another.  Because they are so few of that one-grade level, the other teachers from that grade level agree to take them for most if not all of the day.  That leaves the combination teacher with one grade level to teach.  Yes, it does increase the numbers for the other teachers.  But we look at it this way.  Eventually, every one of us will have to teach a combo class, and if we can help each other out, when our time comes we will also get help.  Think of it as paying it forward.

But this year was very different.  Our three combination classes had an even split between the two grades levels that were combined.  So the only solution was for me to take the second graders from the 1st-2nd-grade combo and combine them with my second graders to form a complete class. This meant sending my third graders to the other third grade teachers.  So here I am now teaching second grade!

#2 GET THE PACING GUIDES!


When you're switching grade levels, the second thing you should do is find those pacing guides!  They will show you the entire year in a nutshell and will make your planning much easier.  In my district, grade level units were made by classroom teachers for each grade level and are shared in a Google Drive folder.  So it is straightforward to see what the units for the year are going to be.  In my district, these units are for English Langauge Arts and Math.



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There are also unit binders that each grade level puts together with the resources that support each unit.  Knowing exactly which standards I am going to teach with each unit is invaluable.  Knowing which content area (social studies or science) is integrated into each unit is also invaluable.  Having both allows you to see how the entire year will flow.  Find your pacing guides.  Locate the unit binders.  If your district of school does not have these, another way is to ask a teacher at that grade level to see if you can look at last year's lesson plans (because we know every teacher keeps those old lesson plan books!).  

#3 ASK FOR HELP!


Even with the pacing guides and unit plans, you're going to have questions! You will have lots of them. The third thing to do is don't be afraid to ask for help from the grade level teachers.  I am lucky to work at a school in which everyone is friendly and works together as a team.  It is easy to ask for help.  We've developed a culture at my school in which it is not "my kids" but our kids.  Since we team teach for English Langauge Development (ELD) and RTI, it is natural to think of all the students as our students.  We have a stake in all classrooms being successful.


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What if you don't have a friendly or helpful staff?  I've worked at those schools, too.  The best thing to do is to find a mentor.  Find that one friendly, helpful teacher (even if it's not the same grade level) and ask that teacher for help.  Don't feel intimidated to ask the principal for help!  That's a principal's job which is to support teachers.  Does your school or district have math or reading or some other type of instructional coach?  Ask them for help, too!  Don't add to your stress by isolating yourself and think you are showing weakness. It takes a professional to understand that help is needed.  Ask for it!

#4 REPURPOSE YOUR RESOURCES!


After teaching for 31 years, I have a lot of "stuff."  Yes, most of it is grade level specific, but I know I can adapt some of it to work in my new grade level assignment.  My fourth piece of advice is to figure out how you can repurpose all your read aloud books, unit resources, big books, digital resources, posters, etc., with your new grade level.  The Common Core State Standards from second grade and third grade have lots of overlap.  I'm not going to throw out everything and start over again!  Yes, I may need to borrow some resources or create new ones, but that's just part of teaching.  We're always on the lookout for new and useful resources.


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I'm fortunate that some of the second-grade units in my district are very similar to the third-grade units when it comes to content.  That means I will be able to adapt my third-grade resources to use in second grade.  But when I do truly need something, I know I can go to my colleagues and borrow resources.  Also, just yesterday I went to the public library and found some read alouds to use with the current unit.  Don't forget to use your public library as a resource!

#5  ENJOY IT!


You might as well enjoy it! You're going to be teaching that new grade level for an entire school year.  You owe those students the best teaching and lessons you can deliver.  I am almost sure that next year I will be returning to third grade again (we have real solid numbers now coming up).  So this year I look at it as an opportunity to see how second graders are prepared for third grade.  It will give me invaluable insight as a third-grade teacher next year knowing what I taught the second graders.  Also knowing what third graders are going to be learning in third grade, will help me prepare and challenge these second graders to be ready for the challenges of third grade.


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Also, it will give me an opportunity to create many new resources (both print and paperless/digital) to share with others in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. 

Be sure to come back regularly so you can read more about this switch to second grade!


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