Teaching is a calling. This is something I firmly believe to be true. Choosing a grade level is also part of that calling. Let me share my journey of teaching and how it came to be that I landed in a middle school classroom.
When your grandmother is an English teacher and your aunt owns a used bookstore it’s common to receive a book as a gift. It’s also common that children exposed to books at such an early age will become life-long readers. My love of books was inevitable. Writing became a passion after my very first narrative assignment. My red crayon told a story about spending the day with a kindergartener. From there I kept diaries and journals in my free time. Experimenting with narratives and even a little poetry. It wasn’t until high school that I finally heard some constructive feedback. I still remember the moment I looked at that large red C float atop my title. I was devastated, but Mrs. Harpster taught me more than any other teacher.
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I learned that her daughter was a journalist and this soon became my passion. Journalism and spending ALL my time in her classroom. In my senior year, Mrs. Harpster agreed to have me as a teacher’s aide. She also asked me to teach a few lessons to her lower level freshman class while they were reading Romeo and Juliet. I scheduled to be part of her very small senior Shakespeare class that year as well. Watching those freshmen, who mostly hated books, read with enthusiasm brought me so much joy. Teaching became my new passion and collegiate ambition.
I learned quickly that following in my elementary teaching mother’s footsteps was not for me. High school was much more appealing until I completed my student teaching. Landing in middle school happened thanks to a small group of 7th-grade girls. One of my last college experiences required that I work with a small reading group. It was the most exhilarating experience! Similar to the one I had in high school, but this time it was all me.
At first, they were all very shy about participating; by the end, they all had grown in ability. All 5 of the girls were willing to read and share out loud. That’s when I decided I wanted middle school and not high school. I’m so glad I made this decision. As it turns out the majority of my career has been spent in 7th grade.
Seventh graders are the middle child of our middle school. I always say that in 7th grade they aren’t the kids they used to be, wanting to still play with Barbie and G.I. Joes, but they also aren’t the young adults they will become eventually. It’s always an awkward year. So when my principal asked if I might be willing to change grade levels I was a little hesitant. However, it’s been several years at one grade level so I’m ready to make a change.
Advantages of moving up with students
The first thing that occurred to me was that I will have some of my same students again next year. This could really work to my advantage. Many of the kids will already know my classroom systems: turning in papers, checking in/out classroom library books, absent work, and general classroom procedures. I can use this knowledge to empower them as leaders in the room, regardless of their academic abilities. I can see this being a great confidence booster for many of my former students.
I started by allowing former students to brainstorm all the things students who are new to the classroom might need to know. I wanted to give them this opportunity in case they thought of something I had not. Their list mostly matched mine, but it helped to have students as teachers right from the start. It set a tone of community where students help each other. They covered topics like checking books in and out of our classroom library, where community supplies are located, where to turn in assignments, and how to participate in the 40 book challenge. They also took less time than I usually would because they were to the point. I now realize how much extra information I provide that’s not necessary.
The other great advantage of looping with students is starting with an established relationship. I know these kids, but I also know some of them will do some maturing over the summer. I want to be sure I’m giving them a chance to show me who they are in the current school year, and not treat them as they were the previous year. This is a great opportunity to start the year with a few growth mindset activities. I am able to share my own process of growth over the summer and make growth mindset a foundational conversation. We read Rosie Revere, Engineer to focus our discussion on mistake making and what opportunities they will have in class to fix mistakes.
Physically moving a classroom
The only real disadvantage has been moving my classroom again. Our current building is now only two years old, so I made a big move recently. Even though I purged a ton of things in that move, I still found plenty of things to purge in this year’s move also. It’s amazing what we accumulate as teachers.
I have big shoes to fill, as I’m replacing a retired teacher, but I’m feeling up for the challenge. I’m looking forward to new teammates and the new dynamic of teaching kids one step away from high school. Have you ever made a grade change? What did you find to be the most helpful tool in making a successful transition?