Published Online: August 13, 2013

Surviving a Last-Minute Change in Your Teaching Assignment

You may have created name tags, prepared lesson plans, and even spent time getting to know "your" students when the news arrives: a last-minute (or past-the-last minute) change in your teaching assignment.

How do I know this could happen? Because it happened to me. I was just getting to know my 1st graders when I was transferred to kindergarten—a grade I'd never taught before.

Whether you're in your first year teaching or (as in my case) your 20th, this is a challenging situation. Here are some tips for surviving your new setting and helping students thrive:

1) Think through how your classroom will be run and identify priorities for the first day.

Put down on paper what you would like to see happening in your classroom and involve your students from the first day in designing class expectations and procedures. Students need to know what to do when they arrive at school, how to turn in work, what centers will they be working at, and so on.

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Make the routines clear as soon as possible to help students to begin learning. You can always tweak your expectations and procedures later.

It helped me to make a list of what would be happening on the first day. My new kindergarten students were coming to me from their initial placements with six different teachers and classrooms—and they needed all the structure I could provide. Morning and afternoon meetings gave us set-aside times to learn and reinforce new (and familiar) routines and rules.

Meanwhile, I also needed to help my 1st graders make their own transition—complete with all of their school supplies and school work. I met with the 1st grade teacher who received "my" class to share records and observations that I had begun keeping, and was able to reassure parents that their children would make a smooth shift to their new classroom and teacher.

Writing down each step gave me a concrete list to focus on during this time of change.

2) Collaborate with your teammates.

Thankfully, most teachers no longer close their classroom doors and focus only on their own classes. Your colleagues possess a wealth of knowledge and can ease your transition. Don't be afraid to ask for help. No teacher should have to go it alone when there is an entire school staff to support him or her.

I knew exactly where my kindergarten students would need to be at the end of the year to be ready for 1st grade. But I did not have a clue as to how to get them there. My kindergarten teammates proved to be invaluable resources.

They were more than willing to share classroom rules, strategies, and lessons to help me with the first few weeks of transition. They mentored me, making themselves available for any questions I had. I looked forward to talking with them at the end of each day as I began my kindergarten adventure.

Other school staff supported me, too. The guidance counselor, reading coach, math resource teacher, and media specialist offered materials and advice throughout the year. Our principal and assistant principal also made themselves available—I just needed to be willing to take the initiative to ask.

The reassignment and ensuing collaboration actually benefited my colleagues, too. I helped bridge the efforts of my new kindergarten teammates and my former 1st grade teammates as we began to understand and implement the new Common Core State Standards.

3) Reach out to parents.

I communicated early and often with the parents of my new kindergarten students. Of course, they had questions and concerns: Their children were being moved to a new class and teacher, just as they were getting used to their new school.

A weekly classroom newsletter and grade-level website helped them focus on what their children were expected to learn—and helped me convey how their children were adjusting and thriving in their new environment. Meanwhile, I was able to implement many of the communication techniques I had used with my 1st graders and their parents: a homework folder, student-led conferences, etc.

I found ways for parents to support me, too. For example, I asked them to complete an interest-and-information survey so that I could gain knowledge about their child that only a parent would have.

4) Identify ways for students to feel ownership of their new classroom.

I had to make my classroom feel like "our classroom"—and quickly. My students loved having classroom jobs: passing out papers, leading the class in calendar time, running errands to the office, and other non-instructional tasks that cut into teaching time.

5) Err on the side of being over-prepared with supplies.

Even when you don't face the challenges of reassignment, it is easy to get caught up with students forgetting or losing their supplies. Keep a bucket full of sharpened pencils, boxes of crayons, glue sticks, and any other item needed during the school day. You’ll find it much easier to loan an item than argue with students about supplies.

I faced the daunting task of sending my 1st graders' supplies to their new classroom and teacher, while also organizing supplies for my kindergartners. I had to be direct and prompt in my communication with parents as well as former and new teachers in order to ensure a well-stocked classroom.

But in those moments when students' supplies weren't enough, I was prepared.

6) Draw upon your strengths as a teacher.

Maybe you prepared for (or have served for years in) a very different teaching assignment. Do what you know effective teachers do.

Write or state what the students will be learning and what you are expecting them to be able to do to show their learning. Build on what your students know, clear up any misconceptions, and then tie this into what you are teaching. When possible, give students choice about how they approach their work and show their learning. Monitor students' progress through formative assessments that help you plan for the next day.

7) Remember to take care of yourself as well as your students.

We all know how easy it is to become wrapped up in planning, grading, and curriculum to the point that you no longer take good care of yourself. Warning: When you are coping with reassignment, this is even more of a danger.

Give yourself permission not to be the most innovative teacher at your school this year. You do not need to reinvent the wheel of creative teaching: Take advantage of the resources available to you. For extra support, you can reach out on virtual networks like the CTQ Collaboratory.

Finally, guard against burnout by making time for you each day: Read a magazine, exercise, cook, or do whatever you like to do.

Approach this year with confidence. Your students will thrive, and you will do much more than survive!

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