By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
English Language Development instructor Casey Doose works with eighth-graders Maribel Guzman (left) and Indira Vilchis at Martin Luther King Middle School in Oceanside.
When administrators switched Casey Doose from teaching fourth-graders to teaching eighth-graders, the English Language Development (ELD) instructor briefly went into a state of shock. She didn't have much time to prepare.
"The first thing I did was get to know the standards and the expectations of the new grade level," says Doose. "That was huge."
When she wasn't cramming to learn eighth-grade standards, she was asking teachers in her newly assigned grade level for pointers. Mostly, she wanted to know how eighth-graders behaved.
"I had no idea what to expect from an eighth-grade personality, or what kids are like at that age" explains Doose, who still is teaching eighth-graders at Martin Luther King Middle School in Oceanside. "In addition to speaking with colleagues, I did child development research, so I would know how to treat them. I wanted to gear my lessons so I wasn't being condescending or too challenging. I wanted to push them, but not so hard that they couldn't be successful. It's hard when you switch grades, because you don't know what to expect in terms of behavior and capabilities."
She gave students a questionnaire to fill out on the first day. She asked them what they wanted out of her class — and from her as a teacher. She asked them about what they liked to do — and disliked doing — both inside and outside of the classroom. And she referred back to these interviews when she wanted to connect better with her students.
"I found out that PE was the favorite class of many of my students. So I began gearing my science lessons for the outdoors. It was really successful. When we were studying atoms, they would run around and act like different parts of the atom. If they were electrons they were always in motion, dropping different balls into a bucket that represented the nucleus of the atom for protons and electrons. It was so much fun."
If you switch grades, says Doose, try to look at the experience as an adventure and learning experience in child development. "It's cool because you learn what's coming up next for students you have taught or what they have already gone though."
Kate Pitrone had been a kindergarten teacher for seven years. Last year her principal switched her to second grade at Dyer Kelly Elementary School in Sacramento. It was only two grade levels, but a world of difference.
"I was very upset," recalls Pitrone, a member of the San Juan Teachers Association. "My passion was kindergarten, and I had received so much professional development for kindergarten. I didn't understand why they were switching me."
"The past year has been extremely stressful," Pitrone admits. "It was like my first teaching year all over again. It was very time-intensive trying to figure things out. But my partners were really good, and I relied on them to help me through this year. It helps to immediately connect with someone who is teaching that grade level."
In addition to studying standards of the new grade level, Pitrone recommends looking at the standards of the previous grade level to have an idea of the skills students should already possess. She suggests going to trainings and asking for release time to observe the classroom of a teacher in the grade level you have been reassigned to.
"Don't be afraid to ask your peers for help," says Pitrone. "Ask lots and lots of questions."