Grade Levels

Two elementary teachers give four tips for making a grade-change swap easier, manageable, and maybe even fun.


During the 2016–17 school year, Bethany Dean and Sidney Guarine were first-grade teachers at Acacia Elementary in the Washington Elementary School District. While the former third-grade teacher, Dean, will remain with first graders next year, the past second- and fifth-grade teacher, Guarine, will make the jump to third.

Some professionals dread reassignment and hesitate to apply for a change in position (even when they’re ready to try something new). With experience under their belts, Dean and Guarine put their heads together to cultivate a list of tips to help make the transition to a new classroom easier for any educator. So, if you’re taking the leap or have been voluntold to make the move, use these helpful hints.

Tip One: Reuse Lesson Plans and Recycle Content

As teachers, we can build upon or simplify lessons from the grade level we’ve previously instructed. Many skills are repeated and taught at a higher or lower levels, which makes it easy to differentiate lessons for students at various stages. In fact, you might already have a lesson you can scaffold to meet the needs of diverse learners.

Tip Two: Lesson Plan from Scratch

Good news: Your lesson planning process will be the same! Getting yourself familiar with a new set of standards and content should be step one. A fresh grade level means a whole new world of expectations for students’ mastery. After reviewing standards, analyze the break down to understand what skills learners will need prior, in order to achieve the goal. Once you’re familiar with the standards, knowing the pace and mapping of progression for the year is pivotal. Don’t forget to utilize your new teammates for this too!

Tip Three: Classroom Set-Up

Invest in or reuse items like fabric, fadeless paper, and borders. This makes it simple to transform a new-to-you classroom. Plus, don’t be afraid to borrow. Plenty of teachers have materials sitting around they are willing to part with or let you use for the time being. But, don’t hog it all. Pass along your own items to a replacement and/or teammates — think class décor and signs, lessons or activities, and books!

Pro Tip: Many schools assign each class or teacher with a mascot (Mrs. Dean’s Wild Things). This makes dressing up a room easy and less stressful. If mascots aren’t mandatory, give it a shot. Who knows, it might catch on!

Tip Four: Build Credibility

This might be easier if you’re moving grade levels at the same school because you will already know many siblings and families. You may even have strong relationships with incoming students because you’ve taught them before. Regardless, use tools like your class website, newsletter, and postcards home to introduce yourself to parents and students before the school year begins.

Remember: Some Things Don’t Change

  • Use classroom management procedures that work for you and are grade-appropriate. Keep in mind, Kagan engagement techniques are great for almost all grades.
  • Schedules are important. If you’re still a general education teacher you will have a routine, which includes all the same subjects and daily tasks.
  • Communication is key. Integrate newsletters, positive notes home, and other interaction logs to show you’ve got your learners’ best interest in mind.
  • Befriend team planning and learning. Working collaboratively once a week, if not more, will benefit you and your students.
  • Cling to your passion for teaching. No matter what grade you’ve been assigned, you’re still doing what you love, which impacts students in a variety of ways.

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