Professional Practice

5 Tips to Make Changing Grade Levels Positive

image of art supplies in classroom

If you are changing grade levels this school year, you may be experiencing a bit of anxiety mixed with excitement. You’re about to leave a classroom, curriculum, and group of students who are very familiar to you, to embark on a completely unknown adventure. This is exciting! Hopefully, you made this decision yourself, and you’re looking forward to the change. Even so, the new experience can be daunting. It’s okay to feel nervous at the start of your new position.

5 Tips to Make Changing Grade Levels Positive

1. Take time to reflect and assess what you will bring with you.


image of art supplies in classroom

As you end the school year in one position, there may be a temptation to leave everything behind, or worse yet, throw everything away. This can be a natural reaction if you’re leaving a stressful placement, or you are feeling a bit overwhelmed at the end of the school year. Resist the urge to walk away from the room and materials you helped develop.

Take some time to think about what worked well in your classroom, and what will realistically transfer to your new position. If you’re going from elementary to high school, you can toss or donate some of those more juvenile materials and decorations. Your new students may be too mature for some items, but they will still appreciate the excitement and enthusiasm you bring to teaching.

Whatever grade level you are moving to, try to assess what will meet the needs and interests of your new students. Try to take a peek at their classroom or get an expert opinion from a colleague who teaches at that age level. You’ve created some wonderful learning experiences in your time at your former position. Take what you can to share with your new students. You don’t need to completely start from scratch. Instead, you can build on what you know.


2. Put careful thought into how you will leave your classroom for the next art teacher.


image of an empty art classroom

As you think about what’s best for you to take with you to your new position, be sure to keep in mind how you are leaving the classroom for your replacement. We can all remember our first teaching job, and for some of us, the organization of the materials may have been less than welcoming. As you’re cleaning cabinets, before you throw anything out, ask yourself, “Will the new teacher realistically use this?”

There may be some items you’re unsure one way or another. If that’s the case, keep those supplies, but be sure to place them back neatly so the new teacher can decide whether they are useful or not. Tidy materials up, keep everything visible and leave an organized room rather than a chaotic mess. Say goodbye to your classroom, as the new teacher will make it their own. Do your part to make this process easier and enjoyable for them as they start a new position.

Besides the physical space, think of any words of wisdom or helpful tips to leave for the next art teacher. You have the experience and insight that can help them start the year off strong. What can you tell them to make the job easier? What can they learn from the ups and downs you’ve experienced along the way? Especially if they are a brand new teacher, give them a few strategies and suggestions that can potentially help them out. Be sure to offer any advice with humility and point out that you’re only making suggestions, and that you know they will do a great job moving forward.


3. Research teaching strategies and lessons for your new position.


Now that you’ve left your classroom behind, you’re ready to start preparing yourself mentally for your new position. You may pull from what you learned in your college education program. If you haven’t taught this grade level before, though, you may need a full overview of teaching strategies for your new students. Your first point of contact should be the previous art teacher if possible. They will most likely be the expert in what your students already know and give you some words of wisdom. You can also build your confidence by researching online. Try engaging in professional development through conferences, workshops, or courses.

The PRO Learning Packs from The Art of Education are a great resource as well. Check out:

Surviving Your First Year of Elementary Art PRO Learning Pack
Surviving Your First Year of Middle School Art PRO Learning Pack
Surviving Your First Year of High School Art PRO Learning Pack

4. Assess the physical space and materials in your new classroom.


image of classroom

You’re ready and prepared to enter your new classroom with added excitement! Where should you begin? The former teacher has hopefully left their classroom in an organized state, as described earlier. Unfortunately, you may have inherited a messy art material hoarder situation. We all know what that can look like. This can be stressful for any teacher, particularly one who is already grappling with preparing for a new grade level. Take a deep breath, step back for a minute, and then begin an inventory of the classroom. What’s there that you and your students will use? What can you toss? Group like items together, so the materials have some organization. Are there designated areas or stations in the classroom? Assess where things are currently and decide if the placement makes sense for you and how you will teach.


5. Create an environment and curriculum that reflect you.


image of teacher desk

Once materials are a bit more organized, you can start to personalize the classroom. While curriculum and student needs are the top priority, it’s also important to think about your needs as well. What will make you excited to come to work every day? What do you want your students to see when they walk in for the first time? How will your room reflect your personality?

You could hang up posters of your favorite artists. Write your teaching mission statement on the board or even on the wall! Bring in a few elements from your old school to remind you of where you’ve been and share that with your students. Put up pennants from your alma mater. Decorate with a color scheme that suits your personality. Above all, make the space engaging and conducive for learning and creating!

The curriculum should be the bulk of your job as a new teacher. Take a look at the national and state standards, and use the previous teacher’s curriculum or units as a guide. Be sure to put your own unique passions and interests into your teaching. Students can tell when a teacher is reciting a written lesson. They will respond better if you speak from the heart with passion about a project you discovered or developed yourself.

Use your research and resources to help you design a curriculum you are proud of and believe students will enjoy. You may be able to use some of those favorite lessons from your previous position by adapting the project to your new grade level. Think about what changes you might need to make to keep it engaging. Chances are if it was successful with one age group, you can find ways to make it work with another. Now you’re ready to share a curriculum with students you are passionate about in a space that reflects your teaching!

Try to enjoy the ride!

Enjoy this journey from start to finish! It will not be perfect. You’re a rookie all over again. Go into this school year knowing your first year is a learning experience. If you feel uncomfortable, that’s okay! You’re growing along with these new challenges, and you’ll be an even better teacher as a result. Hopefully, you took this position for several good reasons, and you reap the rewards from this decision. Be gentle on yourself and honest with your students about learning right alongside them. Have a great school year in your new position!

Have you changed grade levels in your career? Was it easier or more difficult than you imagined?

What advice would you give a teacher who is switching grade levels?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Jordan DeWilde

Jordan DeWilde, a high school art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. He aims to encourage students’ individual creativity through a diverse and inclusive curriculum.

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