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Teaching Tips & Tricks, Uncategorized   |   Jun 11, 2010

Switching grades: teacher needs vs. school needs

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Switching grades: teacher needs vs. school needs

By Angela Watson

8 little words can invoke panic in the heart of almost any teacher: “You’re moving to a different grade next year.”

Changing grade levels is a big topic of conversation in June. In some schools, nothing’s been decided yet, so the rumors are flying and everyone’s unsettled. Other principals have already dropped the bomb: I’ve heard of one school in which a kindergarten teacher is being moved to 7th grade, which means the 7th grade teacher is being moved to 4th, so that teacher’s moving to 2nd, and the 2nd grade teacher’s going down to kindergarten.

Why the huge shuffle? Because one teacher is the weakest link, and the principal’s playing a game to make sure he inflicts the least amount of damage on students.

Situations like that infuriate me. It’s one thing when a drastic move is necessitated by budgetary reasons; for example, when a position must be cut due to decreased enrollment or funding. I can also understand moving a teacher into his of her field of expertise or preference. However, causing a chain reaction of switches for no reason other than to shuffle an incompetent teacher is a tragedy.


I’m amazed at how often this happens. Sometimes the principal is trying to run the teacher off or force early retirement (and it often works). But many times it’s a matter of placing ineffective educators in non-standardized-testing grades, as if children who don’t get scored by the state one particular year are of any less value or don’t deserve a top-quality education.

Another grade-switch reasoning that bothers me: This teacher’s been in the same grade for too long. He’s getting stale and stuck in a rut. I’ll move him up two grade levels and he’ll have no choice but to change with the times!

Wrong, wrong, wrong. He DOES have a choice: to get really angry, shut down, and try even less. He has the choice to take his frustration out on the kids and everyone around him. And chances are, if he’s the kind of teacher who refused to try new things in his former position, he’s not going to be too excited about learning to work a SmartBoard now that he has a whole new curriculum to figure out.

I’m not excusing the laziness and incompetence of certain teachers. I’m ascertaining that moving ineffective teachers to another grade level doesn’t fix the problem by itself, and it can make things worse for everyone else affected.

Most teachers have an increasingly limited amount of autonomy in their jobs, and I believe that choosing the age level or subject area they’d like to devote their career to teaching is a reasonable expectation. An unhappy teacher is never going to be as effective as a happy one, so shouldn’t a principal honor a teacher’s wishes whenever possible?

Not everyone agrees with me on this, I know. Whether you do depends on your feelings about a few fundamental questions:

  • What is a legitimate reason for forcing a teacher to switch grade levels?
  • Are administrators obligated to make any switch that will benefit the maximum number of students? If so, how can those potential benefits truly be gauged in advance?
  • Is it worth making a few teachers unhappy if it’s advantageous to the school as a whole? And when we refer to the benefit of the ‘school’, do we really mean the faculty, the students, or the test scores?

We can all agree that the purpose of school should be to meet the needs of children, but teaching is a professional career choice. I don’t think anyone should be stuck teaching something they’re not passionate about.

So what’s more important in your perspective, the good of the ‘school’ or the good of the teacher?

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. I think it should always be for the good of the students. From my point of view, my job is to create the best possible educational experience for my students, and that should always be the priority, not teachers’ personal preferences. I have heard of instances where teachers switched grade levels because it was apparent that they were better suited for a different age level of students. Yet, when doing this it it is important to get the teacher’s buy in because if the teacher is holding a grudge/upset then it will not be optimal for the students either. Though change can be hard, hopefully most educators would go at it with a positive mind knowing that it is to the best advantage of the school. I can see how it would be frustrating if it was a bunch of shuffling because of some of the reasons you listed.

    1. Mrs. V, getting that buy-in from the teacher is so critical. I’m finding that it’s a critical part of my job as an instructional coach when teachers come to me upset about being assigned to areas outside of their expertise. I, too, get frustrated in these situations–like when I work all year to help a teacher become a really outstanding reading instructor and then find out she’ll be teaching math the following year. Sometimes I struggle to find the big picture and see how there will be real benefit to the change, but I feel that it’s my job to find the positives in the situation and help the teacher acclimate to what really IS an opportunity for learning and personal growth.

      I think many teachers go through some version of the 7 stages of grief when they’re told they have to move grade levels (especially if that process involves moving to a new classroom, which is often as much work as moving an apartment). Eventually they come to acceptance and start getting excited about how they’ll be able to try new things and grow professionally. As long as they reach that step by August, it’s all good. 🙂

      1. I agree with the stages of grief and have found myself in the stages of panic, oh no, what now modes? I have been teaching K-5 many years. I was moved mid year from 5th to another school district in 5th of much rougher students , because a teacher left, walked out on the job. It was a trying rest of the year, and for all I did to help the school, I didn’t get resigned at the end of the year. ?? I was like, really?
        So, I know I am here to help students at all costs, but I also realize that there is a cost to my mindset, mental well being, exhaustion status, stress level, and depending on the level of students , case load and amount of students, and or the amount of issues and emotional concerns that may come with them…. It can get exhausting right off the start. So, having taught 5th grade for many years, I chose to go down to 3rd, then was asked to go to 4th, and now being asked to bump up to 6th- 8th level? I am in the panic mode, and feeling all is way out of my comfort zone, and that somehow I am being used to cover up and teach the missing years of knowledge that students didn’t get from other teachers incompetencies. It isn’t fair. I can’t carry the whole school. And I just want to be valued for what I am good at, and not tossed to another level with more expectations and clearly I have no say if I want this or even if this is above my certification level. ??? Somewhere, a teacher’s voice should count. We are the ones planning, creating, teaching, modeling, and pouring out all of who we are to help students learn daily. After 20 years of teaching, I am finding that I know what levels I am okay with, and If I have to hear anymore higher level students talk back to me…. I just don’t understand the disrespect these days.
        So, yes, feeling the grief stage of what in the world next??? and I am not excited nor accepting of any level at this phase yet. I have learned that I like where I am at , and that if this is where I feel I am generating the most impact to help students learn, then this is right where I am most needed, here today.

    1. That’s an important point, Justin, and something that’s often overlooked by administrators in situations beyond grade level changes.

      There’s a really good discussion going on over on my Facebook page. I’m amazed at how many teachers have not encountered this phenomenon. I’m beginning to think this is a characteristic only of large urban schools…yet another way kids there get the short end of the stick.. ;-(


      1. I work in a rural community, and right now with budgets there is a lot of shifting around with local schools in our county. For example, as teachers are retiring or moving out for other reasons, those positions are not being filled. Instead teachers are getting shifted all over, sometimes not just different grade levels within a school but shifts from elementary to middle school or middle school to high school. I wonder if we will be seeing it more and more as a sign of the economy. While I am sure affected teachers are still thankful to have positions, I can’t think of anything more stressful/unsettling than to not know what positions will look like in the fall. I feel fortunate that I know my exact position, but I feel for those who do not know and will not only be out of their comfort zone but they might not have the full summer to prepare either.

  2. 1. The good of the students.
    2. The support of your coworkers.

    If I know that students will be benefiting from lower class sizes and more individualized instruction as a result of my move, I’m more willing to do it. Same goes for teams and support. If there is a welcoming staff on the other end of the line you already know that you’re going to be receiving great materials and great projects ideas for the new curriculum that, if you are adaptable will be quick to learn and implement (I’m doing it again next year!) It’s when you feel like you’re moving to a pre-established team of unwelcoming cliquey people for bs administrative reasons that the resentment sets in and you are less effective in the actual position.
    .-= TeachEnEspanol´s last blog ..Dead Poet’s Society =-.

    1. Good point about needing a welcoming team. What a difference that makes when a teacher moves! I think that being friendly and helpful and willing to share ideas is even more important for teachers who have transfers coming to their grade level. A good attitude from coworkers can make a big difference in an involuntary transfer. I always liked to make a big deal of welcoming new teachers to the team and tried to pump them up on why third grade was going to be soooo much better than whatever they taught before. Usually by the end of the year, they agreed! 🙂

      1. I am very excited to be moved from 1st to Kindergarten. I wanted to be in Kindergarten when I first arrived 14 years ago at my school. I finally am being moved, but I am having problems being accepted by the other team teacher. Others are making stories up about me and I feel I am going into this with a little bit of Bullying by others. Please suggest what I can do to be a participating team member.

        1. Irene,
          Just enjoy the teaching and the year and SHINE, loving every moment of it, your joy will be contagious and win them over.

  3. Before I moved to TN I never knew of this happening unless the teacher wanted it to happen. Now every April all of us in our building are wondering “who is moving grades?” or just as bad “who is switching classrooms?”… the way I see it, if you want ANYONE to be an effective teacher, you need to leave them in the grade they are happy in and let them grow there. If the teacher is ineffective in one grade, moving them to a grade that is not tested does not help. That child will still be tested at some point, this year or in another grade. So, for example, you move Ms. Ineffective teacher to 2nd grade, a non tested grade (for example) and then I get students from Ms. I’s class in 3rd grade (a very important grade and tested) I am now starting from behind because Ms I is probably still ineffective.

    I am going into my 3rd year teaching 3rd grade next school year and hopefully will stay in third (we can have shifting as much as 20 days into the school year based on our numbers… another phenomenon I never knew of until moving here). I would love to stay in 3rd as long as I WANT TO in order to better myself as a teacher. How can a teacher possibly feel effective and great when their grade keeps changing?

    1. Gina, you’ve pointed out something that 3rd grade teachers complain about all the time–ineffective teachers being placed in 2nd grade and then the 3rd grade teachers have to work twice as hard! Very frustrating! It’s amazing how much more 3rd graders can learn in the beginning of the school year when they’ve come from a strong 2nd grade teacher. I wish more people understood this.

      I hope you’ll be able to stay in 3rd next year so you can continue to refine your teaching skills and really feel confident about what you’re doing. I know in FL, too, teachers sometimes have to switch grades after the first 20 days based on ‘warm body counts’ (how many kids actually showed up to school). Hopefully your student population will stay the same!

  4. It’s a tough situation. Definitly the good of the students always wins, but if a principal sees that a teacher isn’t being successful at a certain grade level, I can understand the change. As for me when I read your first paragraph about the K teacher switching to 7th…I literally gasped. As a Kinder teacher I wouldn’t know what do to with myself in 7th grade. Obviously my degree is in Early Childhood because I enjoy teaching those grades and I know I how to be a successful instructor there.From K to 1st or 2nd is acceptable but K to 7th I don’t even know what to say.

    1. Yeah, that’s a HUGE jump to a grade with a totally different teaching philosophy! I’ve found that kindergarten teachers are especially loyal to their grade level: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade teachers might move around a bit, but K teachers are their own unique breed. Most of the veteran K teachers I’ve met have never taught anything else and couldn’t imagine doing so. It’s a special niche. 🙂

      1. well my horrible principal just to be spiteful is moving this Kindergarten teacher to 4th grade. She knows I love my job and my kids loves me. I AM A KINDERGARTEN teacher. she is pure evil.

        1. this just happened to me!!! I am a KINDERGARTEN teacher and love what I do. i am being switched to the middle school!!!’n

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