Teachers are expected to shift grade levels flawlessly, right, especially inveterate ones.
Many teachers spend most or all of their careers focused on one grade or area of teaching. As this post and linked research will illustrate, they have a professional advantage in terms of effectiveness, happiness, etc.
As for me, I have been in the realm of teaching for 18 years now. I can honestly say that there is not one grade level that I have not worked with on some level, from preschool to grade 12 in the past 18 years. And truthfully, every grade level has been a pleasure – with its own advantages, disadvantages, and learning experiences.
However, that doesn’t necessarily prepare me for the specific life circumstances of my students, group dynamics, prior learning experiences/environments, ingrained behavior patterns, etc.
As for me, I have now been teaching exclusively in traditional schools for 10 years. Prior to that, I taught dance and yoga in public and private schools, camps, community centers, and independent studios. I was a“guest artist” in performing arts programs in New York City Public Schools, and a choreographer for public middle schools in Westchester County. I led children’s and adult classes in New York City at Broadway Dance Center.
So, pedagogy has been in my repertoire forever, it seems.
Continuously Shifting Gears
But in my current district, I have had three different placements in three years: reading teacher, 3rd gradeENL classroom teacher, and now 1st grade general education classroom teacher. And yes, I feel like my head is spinning with the constant change. I feel as though I’ve handled it as gracefully as I can, but I have definitely had the sense that I am constantly fighting to stay ahead and feel prepared.
Also, the constant shifting of placements and grade levels means constant shifting not just with curricula, but classroom management, positive reinforcements, timing of transitions and attention spans, etc. I’m not going to lie – my second year teaching third grade was exponentially easier than my first. Just when I thought I was going to sail into my third year of 3rd grade feeling less anxious about keeping all the plates spinning in the air, I again got shifted involuntarily. And so now that I’m shifted into primary, there have been some bumps and tweaks in how to approach all aspects of my work.
In February 2018, the National Council on Teacher Quality published Hannah Putman, Nick Ledyard’s: Can Moving Teachers Between Grade Levels Actually Hurt Student Learning? And to get straight to their answer: unequivocally yes.
A Meta-Analysis on this Topic
In 2016, Tara Kini and Anne Podolsky of the Learning Policy Institute published a paper on the correlation between teaching experience and teacher effectiveness. The paper, a meta-analysis of 30 peer-reviewed studies in the last 15 years, positively related experience to effectiveness. Teachers tend to gain the most significant increase ineffectiveness in the first period of their careers, but the increase in students’ potential for achievement continues into the second and third decades of a teachers’ careers. (Kini and Podolsky, 2016)
Kini and Podolsky’s meta-analysis confirmed a lot of my feelings this year. Here are their findings:
- Teaching experience is positively associated with student achievement gains throughout a teacher’s career.
- As teachers gain experience, their students are more likely to do better on other measures of success beyond test scores, such as school attendance.
- Teachers make greater gains in their effectiveness when they teach in a supportive and collegial working environment, or accumulate experience in the same grade level, subject, or district.
- More experienced teachers confer benefits to their colleagues, their students, and to the school as a whole. (Kini and Podolsky, 2016)
At the risk of being too frank, here are some thoughts, especially in regards to #3:
- I feel like I hold myself to a high standard, and am a perfectionist. So my burnout from constant change is increasing, becauseI have such a strong desire to be incredibly good at whatever I do. No one can be “perfect” off the bat at anything. I crave time, support, professional development, camaraderie, and a less-anxious teaching environment.
- My entire teaching career, I have felt so happy and excited to get up and get to work every day…until recently. I fear my devotion to this profession is going to dwindle quickly if I do not find stability. I am yearning for a consistent placement and hoping that the data continue to support the claims above, so I can use empirical evidence to fight for myself professionally.
- Primarily because of substitute teacher shortages (is this going on in your district too?), I have been told “NO” to going to conferences and professional development (PD) outside the district. On several occasions. I have been discouraged from going to things, even in the summertime. I’ve been encouraged to rely on the PD that my district offers. You may know that I regularly present at conferences, so this is difficult for me. Especially since conferences are where I can “recharge my teacher batteries.”It is something I need to reinvigorate my ever-shifting practices. (I liken it to taking supplements to enhance performance, or a self-care regimen for invigorated teaching!)
- I have teachers around me I know I can reach out to, if need be. My neighboring teachers in my hallway are incredible women who repeatedly offer mentorship, exchanging of ideas and resources, etc. I am incredibly grateful for them!
- I have made a direct, clear communication with my superintendent about wanting to be a great reflection on her district when I am asked to speak at conferences. I feel as though I can reach out to her directly, and that she understands my desire to be a part of the educational community at-large.
- My current principal (new to our building this year) is open to hearing my thoughts and is receptive to any concerns I voice.He is always willing to find solutions within his capabilities.
- I have taken it upon myself to create positivity and community in my building, by facilitating a “Morning Mindfulness” before school every Wednesday morning. It is a brief, 10-minute practice to focus on our breath, become present, and approach the day with hope and openness.
Cutting the Slack
On my way to a conference just this past week, I stumbled on a podcast that is becoming a “game-changer” for me. It is the Vibrant, Happy Women Podcast by Dr. Jen Riday. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately, but this one speaks to me in a way none of the others I’ve found do. There are different women who are guests on the program, and several talk about the importance of acknowledging that things are not easy, and giving yourself a break.
Now that’s a novel idea!
So, I know that I must mindfully acknowledge that I am doing the absolute best with the knowledge, training, and resources I have at this moment. And that is enough. At least for now. I cannot keep beating myself down for the ideal in my head I’m not spring-boarding into with each new placement. I also have to give myself credit for being the only adult in the room, when many other teachers have aide support or special education/ENL teachers that push-in during instruction. I’ve been able to evaluate 18 students’ complete literacy profiles (reading level, writing development, spelling inventories, and sight word knowledge) twice so far this year, whilst managing a whole classroom alone, with only partial help on sight word assessments. (Thank you Mrs. Finney! You are a godsend!)
So maybe….just maybe…I’m not doing as badly as I am making it out to be? Regardless, the proof will be in the pudding. I await gains in student achievement, and only then will I know if my instruction has been effective.
Here’s what I’d love to know from you:
- How do you manage shifts in teaching placements?
- Disparate ideologies in your professional environment?
- Feeling like you don’t have a professionally supportive work situation?
I’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time… go forth and love what you do despite any obstacles!
Peace and understanding,
PS: You might also want to check out Angela Watson’s website for more on this topic!
Kini, Tara, and Anne Podolsky . “Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research.” Www.learningpolicyinstitute.org, Learning Policy Institute, June 2016,learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/Teaching_Experience_Brief_June_2016.pdf.
National Council on Teacher Quality, ed. “Can Moving Teachers Between
Grade Levels Actually Hurt Student Learning?” February 1, 2018. “Can https://www.nctq.org/dmsView/17-000834_Can_Moving_Teachers_v2_02-01-18