Construction is booming in our school's neighborhood, so I shouldn't have been surprised about the overcrowding that resulted. We got the OK to hire a new teacher, but how would we handle moving kids to a new classroom a few weeks into the school year?
New housing construction is a constant in the neighborhoods around our school. We were a new school just a year ago, and we're already bursting at the seams! This year, due to an unexpected boost in student enrollment, we had to add new a teacher after the school year had begun. As much as we welcomed the relief from overcrowded classrooms, adding a new class at a grade level can be a challenge; moving students to a new teacher after those students have settled into routines with their current teacher will not be easy. How could I make certain that these moves would be a win-win for everyone involved: the students, their parents, the new teacher, and the current teachers whose classrooms would be affected?
The first thing I did was to meet with the staff at the grade level that was to be impacted by the addition of a teacher. It was important that we plan the process together and that they be involved in every step along the way. I even wanted them to be involved in interviewing for the new teacher.
According to our plan, once we hired the teacher we would bring him or her in to "float." The new staff member would be free to observe in the different classrooms -- for several days or even a week or more. That was important to us. It would help ensure a successful transition if the new teacher knew the current students' routines and procedures; he or she could establish some similar procedures in the new classroom. Having the new teacher on staff as a floater would also enable students to get to know that person. When the students moved to the new class, much of the fear of the unknown would be eliminated.
The next step was creating a class list. Which students would be making the move? To accomplish that task, I asked current teachers to provide the names of students they thought would be able to handle such a change well. Once we had a list, we carefully screened that list to be sure we were not putting together a class full of low-performing or behavior-disordered students. I also looked at the proposed class list to be sure ethnicity and gender were balanced as much as possible. In addition, I always ask our phys ed teachers to look over new class lists, because they know all the children and may have insights into which students might have conflicts.
On the day of the big move, I gathered all the students who would be moving to the new teacher's classroom in our school library. I told the students that I needed their help. My "script" went something like this
I talked about how big their classes had gotten and how that made it harder for their teachers to give them lots of attention. I told them that I'd found what I thought was a good solution. I told them I had found a teacher who wants to teach at our school, but that she will need some students to be in her class. "That's where I need your help," I said, as I explained that I had chosen them to be "our new teacher's class." Then I mention the name of the new teacher and remind them that they've already met her and seen her in our building.
When I have set up new classes like this in the past, the students are almost always eager to help. Just in case, though, I always have a school counselor nearby (and available throughout the day) to assist any students who don't take the news cheerfully.
Most of the students seemed fine with the prospect of comprising our new class. At that point, we went ahead and walked down to the new classroom. I stayed for a short time to "celebrate" with them, and to thank them; we sat together with cookies and milk, and I reminded them that only my special helpers were receiving this special treat.
The parents were notified of the change of teachers at the end of the day. Each student went home with a letter. In that letter, I carefully explained what we had done, the benefits of the move for students and parents, and I invited parents to come by and meet the new teacher the next morning. By the time the parents received that letter, the students had spent a day with the new teacher and were able to go home telling all the good things about their new class.
Even if you never have to add a new teacher due to enrollment growth, you may have to make staff changes mid-year due to illness, retirements, or relocations. Allowing time for a new teacher to learn school routines and culture will make the transition for students much smoother. Students are not moving to a stranger's classroom, but to the classroom of someone they already see as a school staff member.
A principal has to know his or her school population before deciding how to notify parents about a move such as this. Change is never easy, but I've found that when parents and students are told in advance of a change there may be sleepless nights and anxiety as the fear of the unknown takes over. I try to make any teacher changes occur early in the week, so that school staff is available for questions from parents once the students begin in the new teacher's classroom.
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