Just before the December vacation, my principal pulled me aside. "We've had a bump in enrollment," she said. "I think you'd be able to handle teaching multiple grade levels, so I want you to teach a second- and third-grade bridge class. What do you think?" This was during my first year of teaching, and a mere four months into my career.
I had worked hard to find this second-grade position, and teaching multiple grade levels wasn't something I had even considered. But I wanted to be a team player, so I agreed. Little did I know that I would end up teaching every grade from first through eighth over the next 16 and a half years of my career. At times, all that change has been difficult and disorienting, but I have no doubt that it has made me a far better teacher.
The career path I've followed isn't for everyone. But take it from me: teaching multiple grade levels can take your skills to the next level, too. Here's how.
1. It Puts Things in Perspective
Teaching so many different grade levels has helped me understand the significance and impact each grade's curriculum has on the others. When teaching the lower grades, I knew exactly what I needed to do to prepare my students for the grades to come. When teaching the upper grades, I benefited from a nuanced understanding of the experiences my students had before they reached my classroom. A common teachers' truism says, "In the lower grades, kids learn to read. Later on, they read to learn." Having taught kids at both steps of literacy development has helped me understand my students' academic lives much more clearly.
2. It Builds Transferable Skills
When I made the jump to middle school after 12 years of teaching elementary, I worried that my classroom management skills wouldn't be effective. I voiced my concerns to my principal, who told me I had nothing to worry about. "Use your management skills from first grade," she said. "Eighth-graders are just first-graders with facial hair. You need to constantly entertain them and drive them to think, just like a first-grade class."
During the first week of school, I had my seventh- and eighth-graders do the same sorts of activities I would have used with a first-grade class. We did icebreakers, discussed why we should have rules, role-played unacceptable classroom behavior, and talked about the projects we would do over the next month. I had thought I would have to be much more serious, tough, and academically rigorous than before, but my middle school students loved the fun and fast-paced action, and that set the tone for the year.
Further reading: Going Down a New Teaching Path
The classroom management skills that you develop from teaching multiple grade levels will make you an overall better practitioner. Over the course of my career, I've accumulated a comprehensive set of skills that has prepared me for any situation that might arise in the classroom.
3. It Helps You Be a Utility Player
Teaching different grades can make you a valuable asset to a school. Although teachers who become masters of a certain grade level are important, utility players are a necessity on every team.
If you're job searching, having taught multiple grade levels makes you a more marketable candidate. If you already have a position at a school you like, teaching a variety of grades can make you an invaluable master of the school's curriculum. And if your school's needs change, being willing to shift to a different grade improves your job security, especially if you're just starting out in your career.
Further reading: How to Transition to a New School
If you're looking for your first teaching job, you probably know which grade you'd like to teach. But be sure to keep an open mind. You might find that teaching a different grade level can be rewarding in ways you didn't anticipate. And if you're a seasoned veteran, being open to change can freshen up your practice and renew your passion for teaching. I've found teaching multiple grade levels to be incredibly rewarding, and I'm always excited to see what the next year will bring.