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April 19, 2021

Five Tips for Changing Grade Levels

New Teacher Survival Guide

After teaching fifth grade for nine years, I was ready for a change. Not because I didn’t enjoy the fifth grade content or the students — I was looking for a new experience. I wanted to expand my knowledge and experience for my own professional growth.

After talking with my administrator, we agreed that I would move down to primary and start the year teaching a 2nd/3rd grade combo class. He didn’t believe this combo class would stay long, and that I would more than likely end up a straight second grade teacher. And it happened just like that. I taught the combo for the first quarter, and then at the start of the second quarter, I was a second grade teacher with adorable seven year olds to teach. What was this experience like? Amazingly overwhelming!

The first thing that I found surreal was the size of the chairs. They were half the size of the students’ chairs that I was familiar with in fifth grade. I remember singing Aladdin’s song, “A Whole New World” to myself…

I learned a whole lot through this experience. Here are some helpful tips for anyone who has to make this change:

1. Setting Up Your Classroom: When decorating your classroom, remind yourself that the students are much shorter. Things that you want them to reach for need to be put at a lower height. I learned this on the first day of school, in the middle of an activity. I didn’t realize how “little” they were.

2. Lesson Preparation: Be ready to prepare more of the class work and/or activities. Students still struggle with using scissors and tools for learning in the primary grades. The five minutes it took for a class of fifth graders to cut a foldable, will most likely take about 15 minutes for a class of second graders to do.

3. Student Recognition: The students thrive on recognition and will give up their recess to help you. The one thing that my second graders made a priority each Monday was changing the classroom responsibilities, if I had forgotten to do it on Friday afternoon. And yes, every student wants to be your “Assistant,” as opposed to fifth grade where only one or two students want to be your helper.

4. Teaching Content: In regard to teaching the content of the various subjects, I remember thinking, “How hard can it be to explain subtraction to a class of students, especially after successfully teaching a class of students how to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions and long division.” Well, it’s the same frustration and learning curve. Even your “best” students will struggle with the concepts that are new to them.

What becomes difficult as the teacher is learning how to explain a concept that is second-nature to us as adults, and being able to explain it in a way that students learning it for the first time can understand. My suggestion: think as simply as you can. Go back to the basics and not the “short-cuts” we use as adults to do these tasks that are simple to us.

5. Pinterest: Something that saved my sanity was Pinterest. Specifically, a poster that detailed what was considered “tattling” and what was classified as “reporting.” If you have little children at home, you’ll understand what I mean.

Overall, this grade-level change gave me great insight into what the focus is in the primary grades, and how it is structured to help the upper grade teachers dive into more difficult concepts, by using the foundational skills students are taught in the primary grades. In the fifth grade, I was used to the students coming into my classroom with basic skills and we could dive into content standards. I learned that with second graders, I had to take classroom time to TEACH those classroom skills, and that the upper-grade students didn’t just magically come with them.


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