This article originally appeared on Rusty and Rosy’s blog. It’s been edited with updates to help parents, students, teachers and administrators who are struggling with transitions to new teachers, often long-term substitutes, mid-year.
On a gloomy Wednesday, we received that dreaded letter that was never expected. Our 4th grade long term substitute would soon be leaving, as her contracted counterpart had opted to come back to school, early.
Parents were angered (in August, we were told that the substitute would be our teacher for the year). What’s worse, the children came home from school that day in tears.
Realistically, kids can usually take changes like this with ease. Sure, they have a connection with the teacher they spent five months getting to know, they’re generally accustomed to her routine and her expectations and understand her teaching style. But a change to a new teacher isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Transitions such as these offer students an opportunity to learn a life lesson that many won’t experience.
Kids need to learn that change happens: we won’t always like it, we won’t always want it, but the more we practice it, the better we’ll become at accepting it. Learning to learn from someone new, to adjust to new routines and to understand different expectations, these are lessons our children are lucky to encounter, now, at nine- and ten-years old, rather than when they’re 26 and a new boss at their marketing firm/law office/emergency room floor/retail establishment, walks in the door.
You have to stretch to become flexible
Flexibility is an important quality of a well-respected teacher. She’s able to twist a lesson when she sees her students aren’t “getting” the concept she’s trying to instruct. When the fire alarm blasts, she can switch focus in seconds, remaining calm and steady, to take all children to safety. When a child has a sudden change of needs, emotions, or feelings, a teacher can push aside her own thoughts to focus on that child’s needs.
Perhaps flexibility is one of the most important things teachers can teach our children.
So, yes. There will be upset over the transition to a new teacher. There will be children who challenge the new teacher’s practices and knowledge. Some children who had a special connection to the first teacher may find they can’t connect the same with the new teacher. There will be kids who respond better to their new teacher, matching personalities or organizational styles in a different manner.
Will the teacher transition get in the way of learning?
Will the second half of the year run more smoothly? Will the kids and the new teacher appreciate each other’s positions and abilities? Will the new teacher jump right in where the substitute left off, or will she start over?
That’s all a wait and see situation right now, but one thing is certain: None of the children will be worse for the wear. Whether or not they’re happy with the change in teachers, whether or not every single concept is taught the way it would have been with the first teacher, whether or not they like teacher A better than teacher B, the students will all grow this year. They’ll all learn a life skill that not every child has an opportunity to learn. The transition will teach them flexibility, change and acceptance.
I can’t think of a better life lesson to learn in a fourth grade classroom than that.
Looking back, Big’s transition was phenomenal. While he liked his first teacher for her enthusiasm, we never felt they connected academically. The first day with the 2nd teacher, Big came home beaming: “Mom! Mrs. J saw my Harry Potter shirt today and loved it! It’s her favorite book ever just like me!” Instantly, they had bonded over favorite books. Within a week, she was able to identify his strengths and recognize areas that he needed challenges to push him a bit further in 4th grade.
We were lucky, we had an easy transition.
Is it always so easy? Definitely not. I, too, was a long term sub. My first job started right after spring break, as the classroom teacher left to have her first child. The kids and I were all so nervous on their second first day, my first. I tried to stick with the methods the classroom teacher had established. I tried to connect with all of the students. The year ended on a positive note for most of us. I received 2 letters of recommendation for jobs — one parent commenting that her son hadn’t started reading aloud at home until I stepped in, another commented that she was so proud to hear her son was finally raising his hand in school — it had been a struggle all year until I came in with my new rules and expectations.
But it wasn’t all roses and sparkles. I’ll never forget the time I sent a student into the hallway for misbehaving around 11 am (challenging my authority for zillionth time), and left him there until the principal walked by my classroom 3 times within 45 minutes, seeing him there the whole time. “Ms. Meyers?” she interrupted my somewhat-calm room. “How long has J been sitting here?” My stunned face said it all. J and I both had trouble with that transition. Mrs. McE, the teacher before me, had a wonderful relationship with him. She knew exactly how to achieve the necessary balance for him, I couldn’t figure it out in just the 2.5 months we had together. Later, when his brother was in my 2nd grade class, I laughed with his family about that day and those two months. He was switching to a new school in a few months and his parents weren’t concerned about how he’d handle the new-school, new rules, new friends transition–he’d already learned to handle it in 2nd grade.
© 2015, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.