As educators, we often come into the field with the perfect grade level in mind. I thought it would be ideal to teach second grade. Not too young, where students are still gaining independence and learning basic skills. Not too old, where they're bigger than me (an ongoing short joke for myself, as I'm only 5’3”).
When I actually began to teach second grade, I quickly realized that this was going to be tougher than I expected. My second grade students were great. I enjoyed my interactions with them. I enjoyed planning engaging lessons around stories such as Stone Soup, and teaching how to tell time. My students were independent enough to complete tasks given to them, but still wanted input and help with their work.
But what I didn’t anticipate were the many challenges coming my way. I'd heard all of the first year teacher horror stories, but I felt like this was different.
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- Differentiation. I faced wide ability ranges. I had students who were working on sight word recognition and students who were reading at a sixth grade level. I had students who were working on basic addition and students who were multiplying three digit numbers.
- Paperwork. Differentiating for all of these ability levels required different practice sheets, depending on the student. I was fortunate to work with an amazing team with whom I planned, and who helped a ton. But all of this paperwork had to be assessed, as well.
- Assessment. I was completely oblivious to how much a second grader is tested throughout a school year. Once these tests are scored, the data is used as a driving point for the next semester.
As a new teacher, it was overwhelming.
I spent the year giving it my best efforts, with the support of my team and a new teacher mentor, but I never really felt completely adequate.
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It was time to pursue other options because, as it turned out, second grade wasn't the perfect fit for me, for my family, for my sanity -- not if I wanted to remain in the teaching profession. So I made the tough choice to start over by moving to preschool.
My decision wasn't an easy one. Preschool was new and scary. Little ones. Have you ever seen Toy Story 3 with the classroom of students throwing and breaking the toys?
I was terrified! But it was there in preschool where I found my home. I knew from the first day, when those three and four year olds entered my classroom and we began to sing, dance, play, and read stories on the carpet, that I'd found my place.
If you're on the verge of leaving the profession because you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or inadequate, I encourage you to take a leap of faith. Change is hard and when you already have so much on your plate, moving grade levels or switching content areas may seem daunting, but I'd encourage you to give it a try before throwing in the towel. One size does not fit all and you may just find your niche in a new environment.
I've spent the last five years teaching in the preschool program and I'm thankful every day that I took the chance and tried something new.
You Are Enough
Our profession and our students need good teachers like you.
Here are a few tips to support you if moving grade levels seems like the right choice:
- Scope out your potential grade levels. Speak with teachers who are currently teaching in the grade or content area you're considering. Ask to observe their classroom and see what their day looks like. Note the pros and cons that you see.
- Keep an eye out for openings. Are there any teachers leaving or new classrooms opening for the grade level or content area you're considering? Letting your administrator know that you're interested in these positions can give you an advantage if or when a position does open up.
- Remain flexible and keep an open mind. Each grade level comes with its own set of perks and challenges. Give yourself time to get settled in and to learn the ropes. Pull from the knowledge of any colleagues or teammates who've been there before you and can help make your transition smooth.
Have you considered moving grade levels or have you already made the leap? What advice would you give to a teacher wrestling with a similar decision? Share your ideas in the comments below.
Audra Damron is currently in her eighth year of teaching and her sixth year as a preschool teacher at Desert Oasis Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a newly certified National Board Teacher. Audra graduated from Bowling Green State University in Ohio in 2010.