I had planned to teach high school social studies. In 2014, I was 24 and had recently completed my master’s in secondary education. I did my student teaching in an 11th grade American History classroom. I was young and daunted by the small age gap between myself and these 17 year old students.
I was offered a middle school position in 2014. It was an answer to prayer in ways I couldn’t comprehend at the time. A classroom of my own, students I loved, a mentor teacher who spoke to my heart as well as my practice; it was a perfect start.
I had planned to stay teaching in the upper grade levels. I enjoyed my school but occasionally took a peek at job listings for high school positions. I knew I couldn’t handle those “little kids,” though. It would be too much. Teaching ALL of the subjects in one day? Plus, God knew I was terrible at math.. He made me that way, right? I called around to other schools. I interviewed at two different high schools. I prayed deeply about keeping my current posting, yet, my heart was not at peace.
One day, the third grade teacher at our school needed a sub for an hour. It was my plan block. “Sure,” I said, “I can handle an hour.” This hour changed my life. I read a single chapter of The Hobbit. They were rapt in their attention, hanging on my every word. I used funny voices and inflection. We laughed! I had so much fun.
Okay Jesus. I’m listening.
When speaking with my current school, it turned out that the third grade teacher wanted to change positions. I told them I would move into the third grade spot. Over the summer of 2017, I moved all of my materials from the social studies room into the third grade room. It felt good. It was the right move. Wasn’t it?
Back when I had been interviewing for high school positions, I had called Desert Christian Schools seeing if they needed a secondary social studies teacher. No, “We’re staffed,” Ron told me, “but we’ll give you a call if anything opens up.”
I had this itch in the back of my brain. I prayed for peace, and I prayed for contentment. I heard back, “Call Ron.” Okay, Jesus. When he returned my call he said, “Wait, aren’t you a middle school teacher?” Well, I was.
Fast forward through moving all of my teaching materials (again) and setting up a cute new classroom I prepared the way I knew how. I made plans and copies, lessons and tests. In the midst of teaching the first few weeks of my first class of 4th graders, it hit me. Uh oh. I’m in trouble here. This isn’t as easy as that hour was… The kids pushed my limits, they couldn’t do things to the level I expected, they struggled with what I was trying to teach.
Don’t get me wrong, I knew HOW to teach – I could read the standards and curriculum, I could write lesson plans and objectives; but I couldn’t teach 4th graders right away. Why? What was so different? Truth was, I didn’t prepare myself the right way.
When switching grade levels, there are a few things teachers must keep in mind.
Each grade level is its own ball game, and students go through tremendous growth each and every year. It’s often hard for teachers to notice because we’re with them all day long, all year long. The striking realization of the growth happens at the beginning of the next year, when you get a whole new group of kids and remember how little and young your students are when they walk in on the first day of school. Imagine watching 8th graders graduate to high school in May and getting a group of itty bitty 4th graders in August! It was a huge leap, and one I hadn’t fully prepared for.
If you’re set to enter into a new grade level this upcoming school year, here are some tips to keep in mind.
Seek God in Prayer
This is an exciting time of change for you. God does really good things when we are unearthed and exposed. He teaches us new things, shows us places of past fear or hurt, and can more fully establish Himself as Lord of your life. Be open to the changes, be ready for the challenges, give yourself time and rest. Mistakes will happen, but keep yourself humble; keep reflecting on your relationships and teachings, adjust when you need to, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seek God first and you will have a fantastic year!
May God bless your new classroom and your new school year!