Transitioning from the Early Years to Grade 4
The end of the school year is a great time to reflect upon the last ten months and celebrate the accomplishments, challenges and changes. This year has been a different sense of reflection because after 11 years teaching in the Early Years I transitioned to teaching and leading a Grade 4 class. It was a year of challenges and growth. I moved out of my comfort zone of where I was confident and into an area of unknown. It was a year level of not knowing who and where the students would be in their journey, the unfamiliar notion of what the admin and parents would expect of a teacher in the upper grades, and the new curriculum, knowledge and skills I would need to gather. To be completely honest the last part was the most challenging and there were numerous times in meetings where I secretly googled some of the skills or a definition of a word that other teachers were talking about in order to find a quick definition to keep up with the conversation. It worked and the conversation carried on.
I have spent the first part of my career in the Early Years and truly love that age group. I love the honesty, the level of innocence and the enthusiasm each young person brings to the classroom on a daily basis. When people used to ask me what I taught I would proudly say ‘kindergarten’ and would then wow them with a witty and funny comment a student had made recently (I have tons over my years of teaching). I truly believe that the most passionate teachers should be in the Early Years; it is the beginning of each student’s academic career and with 15-20 years of education in front of them they need a teacher who is supportive, loving, aware of the needs of that age and proud to be there. In recent years I have seen a change of how others react to teachers in the Early Years, where it use to be a bit of a joke with EY educators defending their daily practice (“We do not just play all day!”) to a deep respect for what they do. Many teachers of older grades understand that each student’s manners, enthusiasm for learning, positive mindset and work ethic was strengthened by their Early Years teachers. And having this knowledge of the work and effort Early Years teachers put in has helped gain a more all around sense of respect for different teachers.
However, after 11 years in and around the same age group I needed a change. And after being granted a wish to move up to a higher grade I was left with trepidation and anxiousness. I immediately realised I had a lot to learn and the upcoming year would be a time of immense challenges, but also great growth as an educator and as an individual.
So, what did I learn? A lot it turns out.
- I learned how to depend on others. I relied heavily on my teammates and would often ask them for advice or ideas. I enjoyed listening to their ideas and what they had done, or what they were planning to do and on numerous occasions I observed their teaching. I teach with some very talented educators that are not only knowledgeable in their craft but very helpful and supportive.
- I expanded my knowledge of different skills. It had been a long time since I defined what a quadrilateral was, wrote a persuasive text or practiced adding fractions. This year I revisited these skills and learned alongside the students. I often had to go to my computer to look up a word or a definition before going back to the discussion, but I was always honest with my set of knowledge and modelled what it was like to be adaptive and creative in finding new knowledge and a life-long learner.
- In general, students in upper grades are more interested in their peers than their teachers so my behaviour management techniques and strategies to get students’ attention had to be adapted and changed. Students did not immediately want to stop what they are doing if you start talking in Grade 4 as they do in Early Years. As a teacher, the importance of who you are has become outdone by their friends around them and what they are doing. Relationships mattered on a deeper level and I needed to put the time and effort into getting to know my students more in Grade 4 than I did in the Early Years. I often did class check ins (see this wonderful example by the very talented educator Mel Taylor), individual check ins and small group check ins. Grade 4 is a challenging year for some students as they start puberty and are adjusting to new relationships while trying to maintain past ones. I made an effort to connect on a deeper level with my students than I did in the Early Years asking for them to email me special celebrations that they participated in, attended a robotics competition, and cheered alongside a hockey game at 10 pm on a Saturday night.
- Being in a different grade gave me a wider perspective on the process of teacher development over the years and within a school. I also realised teachers who feel passionate about the area they teach are more inclined to fight for their students and what they deserve. I have met Performing Arts teachers who truly believe that subject equips students for the future, or a PE teacher who thinks physical education is the most important, and they should. This past year I was surrounded on a team of teachers who felt passionate about the age group of Grade 4. One of the very first days a coworker gave me an hour long talk on why Grade 4 students are the most independent, engaging and rewarding age group. Reflectively, it made me listen more about how educators talk about their area of expertise. I found a lot of teachers talk about how important PE, Drama, Music or another grade level is because they are all important. If teachers didn’t advocate for their age group/specialty then who would?
- I read a lot of young fiction novels. The students recommended books to me and I read them (another blog post to come about these specific recommendations) and I absolutely loved them. I am a huge Rick Riordan fan now and enjoy discussing Greek mythology with the students. Their interests drove their reading and I enjoyed reading with them.
- Grade 4 students are maturing at such a rate that they are able to grasp mature and adult-like discussions, analyze them and offer their opinion. Our conversations ranged from Serena Williams and her loss at the Open, to the different perspectives shown of the Washington confrontation between a group of teenagers and a Native American to the protests of Hong Kong. I enjoyed being a part of these discussions and offering my own perspective, but also acknowledging that I didn’t (and still don’t) have all the answers and neither should they. I also enjoyed being open-minded and flexible with my opinion on certain topics and being honest when my opinion would change due to more information, or a different perspective.
- I became more confident integrating tech into lessons. The students used Flipgrid to share ideas and to listen to each other, Coggle and Mindmesiter to create on-line mind maps, Google Docs and Slides to collaborate with each other and Seesaw to share their learning with their family. I also learned (alongside some students) how to create a video using Imovie, how to create music using MakeyMakey and how to code a robot using Scratch.I also learned a lot about Digital Citizenship and the need to integrate it into the daily lessons. I tried to role-model how to be a responsible Digital Citizenship and how to communicate respectfully on any type of on-line platform. In addition, I was an advocate that all social media platforms should be respected by the minimum age of 13 (as suggested by the social media app) and spoke about that often to parents and students. I am not an expert in any of these areas, but I am a learner and I enjoyed learning alongside the students.
In conclusion, this past year has been one of the most rewarding years of my teaching career. I definitely miss the Early Years. I miss the stories – the fine line between imaginary and reality, the intense development of any type of skills, but I am also loving Grade 4. Now, when people ask me what I teach I proudly say ‘Grade 4’ and wow them with a witty and funny comment a student said recently, because the truth is that they are just as unique, quirky and funny. The most important lesson I have learned this year is that I can love different areas of the school equally and be passionate about both. Students in both grades are adaptable, flexible, positive and eager to learn.
If you are thinking of making a move to a different area of a school I highly encourage it. The other teachers and students are there to support you and the benefits far outweigh the anxiousness and fear that comes with change! And if you have made a move or a change leave a comment below with the most important lesson you learned from the procedure.