2023 UPDATE: I originally published this post on changing grade levels a few years ago, but the tips and lessons are still applicable today. This post discusses my transition to teaching 7th grade ELA at a new school district. My first 5 years here have been wonderful and I look forward to many more!
I head into the 2018 school year ready to take on a new adventure. In June, I packed up my 1st grade primary school classroom in a neighboring district, and moved what I could utilize to my new 7th grade ELA middle school classroom. You are likely thinking…”What on earth?? 1st grade to 7th grade? Are you even certified to do that?”
The funny thing is, I like routine and structure. I am a creature of habit and love the predictable. However, having my third child, taking extended maternity leave, and leaving the comfort of a district after 13 years changed my “need- for-the-predictable” brain. Change is necessary and change is good.
A little history of the last 5 years…
- After having my littlest in 2013, I decided to stay home with my family.
- 2016-2017: I took on a year-long sub position in 4th grade ELA in the district where I live and my children attend school.
- 2017-2018: I accepted a job as a 1st grade teacher in a neighboring district.
- Spring of 2018: I interviewed for and accepted the 7th grade ELA position in the same district where I did my 4th grade ELA long-term sub position.
In all honesty, I loved every second of being a 1st grade teacher and adored everything about my year. I grew so much professionally. I worked with such amazing students, families, and educators, my heart hurt to submit my resume for something different. In fact, if you get the chance to teach 1st grade, I highly recommend it. But the opportunity arose to teach in the same district where we live and my kiddos attend school, the thought of all being on the same schedule tugged at me, and I also adore teaching BIG KIDS.
So here I sit sharing my thoughts, understandings, and insights as I head into my 18th year of teaching in a brand new to me position, and, I couldn’t be more excited for this adventure to begin.
As I organize my new classroom, and sort out this new space and community of teachers, I recognize:
- I am taking the place of an established team’s beloved teammate.
- I am teaching in the same district my children attend school.
- My oldest is a 7th grader.
As I navigate my transition from 1st grade to 7th grade and if you are along for a similar ride, here are some considerations…
1. Embrace the fact that you don’t know everything, but that there are experts ALL AROUND.
I am coming to a team that is well-established and has worked together for a number of years. They have created a team culture, have established relationships, and have systems in place. They are 7th grade experts. I recognize that I have much to learn and can’t wait to be a part of all that they have developed.
While I know that I have a great deal to contribute as an enthusiastic veteran teacher, I know I have much to learn from this dynamic team.
2. Use the opportunity to grow alongside students.
Our middle school is attended by students in grades 5-8. My students have lived the day to day of middle school life for two years. They know the lunch routine, arrival and dismissal procedures, and the location of the coldest water fountain. I will be learning these components from them. This is the third year of middle school for my 7th graders, but the content, 7th grade expectations, and the lack of recess are all new. These elements are new to me as well, so I will be in the learning trenches right alongside them.
As an ELA teacher it is important for my students to see me as a reader, writer, listener, and thoughtful speaker. As a human being I want my students to see that in all aspects of my day, I am a life-long learner and do everything in my power to thrive and grow. Together we are all a work in progress.
3. Listen and absorb.
I have learned so much over the course of my teaching career about teaching reading and writing, but the greatest takeaway from my years in the classroom is being a thoughtful listener. We can learn so much from our administrators and teammates when we listen to their ideas, expertise, and experiences, but we can be even better teachers to our students when we simply listen and learn all we can about each of them.
When we listen to others we develop both trust and credibility. As I transition to my new building, my most important work is to listen.
4. Create the classroom environment that your students will love.
Transforming my classroom setup into a learning space that enhances student learning is my ultimate goal each year. I work to create a space for my students that is functional, organized, and aesthetically pleasing. I am aware that while I spend a huge chunk of my day in this space, my students do as well. It is essential that I consider that I teach boys AND girls, students of diverse races and ethnicities, and do all I can to incorporate these elements that represent ALL of my students.
The essential of my teacher toolbox are: a diverse classroom library, comfortable spaces for reading, flexible spaces for writing, and place that is welcoming to students, staff, and parents.
5. Enjoy the ride.
As an optimist, I know the year will be filled with many amazing days. As a realist, I know there will be days that present challenges. I will remind myself that the challenging days are the ones that will push me to grow. I wish you all the best as you tackle this new school year. May it be your best year yet!