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Changing Classrooms: Making Transitions Easier for Teachers

By Meghan Everette on June 4, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

One of the best — and hardest — parts of teaching is that each new school year brings a wave of new students along with new challenges. Changing schools, rooms, or grade levels can add to the stress, but it doesn’t have to be that way! 

Many teachers in my building, including me, are changing classrooms and grade levels this last week of school in preparation for the new year. I’ve watched as supplies have been sorted and transported, some more effortlessly than others, and I’ve amassed a few tips from the most successful transitions. If you follow these tricks while you clean your room and if you do a little low-keyed planning over the summer, you can make changes exciting rather than daunting.


OrganizeFiling Cabinet

Keeping your room organized is always a good idea. I like to have different sections in my room dedicated to one subject. For example, one closet holds nothing but math manipulatives, teacher materials, games, and texts. Another is dedicated to reading, and another to science. Everything is grouped so it is easy to find. This not only helps me during the year, but when a classroom change happens, I can quickly sort materials that need to stay or go.

My filing cabinets are arranged by subject. One drawer holds all of the unique files, while another holds extra copies and sets that are reused each year. The incoming teacher will likely want to rearrange, but at least she can find all of the tools in one place.



Keep It CleanTable of Classroom Supplies

One of the hardest things for teachers moving out of a classroom is sorting through all the years of old “junk." Instead, at the end of each year, decide which materials can go. Think of it like you do your clothes closet: If you haven’t used it in a year, get it out of there. Sure, some items have to stay and some are worth saving, but toss the junk. Encyclopedia sets that are 25-years-old and gathering dust aren’t doing anyone any good and will only add to the confusion and frustration of those trying to move.




Any time you get new supplies or materials, label Organized Math Closetthem. Your school might already have a system for tagging materials that belong to your room, but if not, create one. My system is that everything that belongs to my room is labeled with my room number. Everything that belongs to my school is labeled with our school's initials. Everything belonging to me has my name on it. I printed my name on several hundred file-folder labels some years ago, and those labels make it easy to see my name (in bold print) at a glance.

Because of my labeling system, when I needed to move in a matter of hours, I was able to quickly grab what was mine and leave what wasn’t. Plus, the incoming teacher was able to send anything with my name to me, and she knew what school-owned materials were important to keep.


Know the Rules

Each school has unique “rules” when it comes to A Classroom in Transitionpurchases. Know what they are! Some schools will allow you to move materials within the building, but others will not. In general, supplies you’ve purchased are yours to keep, even when you leave the building. Purchases made with allocation money typically stay with the school, but can transfer classrooms. If a purchase has been made for your particular grade, it is common to leave it with that grade level (e.g., if the school purchased classroom books for you, and you move to a different grade, those books should probably stay where they are).

Knowing the rules is more than using good manners to ease the way for the next teacher; it can be a legal issue. When in doubt, leave it behind. You didn’t really need that extra roll of masking tape anyway! If I’m dying for a particular supply, I usually break down and buy it myself. I label it, and I know that I’ll be able to take it with me to my next destination.


Take a DipOverflowing Trashcan

Moving grade levels or even schools? Don’t let the change consume you. Go ahead and put your feet in the water, but don’t feel like you have to dive in headfirst during your summer vacation. Give yourself a few days' respite before making any big moves. Start small: Make a Pinterest page for your new grade or sign up for one or two curriculum workshops.

The important part is to be excited and know your standards. A great place to start is to look over your objectives and pacing guides. Then just let your mind soak it in for the summer. You can brainstorm ideas, grab a few supplies, or make some loose plans. But driving yourself nuts with the unknown will not make you rested and recharged, which is what you need to be come September!


Watch Those ToesMoving Classroom Supplies

When it comes to changing classrooms, the last thing you want to do is step on toes. You never know the emotions another teacher might be feeling about leaving his classroom, even if it was his decision. Just like students become “our” kids, classrooms are our home away from home. Tread lightly when moving in and moving out. Offer to lend a hand to teachers who seem overwhelmed. Leave a space like you’d want to find it. And above all, smile! You are doing the greatest job on earth!


What are your tips for an easy transition when changing classrooms and grades? Any horror stories? Leave your tips and tales for others!

Hallway MovingOld Encyclopedias Being DiscardedStacks of Old Files

Comments (12)

This year, our school was closed and we are combining with another elementary that suffered the same fate as us. I had to painstakingly purge a lot, but keep enough that I would have supplies for what ever subject/grade I would teach. Talk was that we are departmentalizing. I have taught self-contained for 6 years now. Talk about a change. With not knowing what subject/grade I am going to teach, I kept a little of everything. Now, once I get that assignment at the new building, I can then distribute things to teachers who might need those other items. It was rough in the beginning because I didn't know what to do, but it will work out for the best!

After 22 years of teaching Pre-K, I made the decision to switch to teaching part-time this year. This meant that this summer I not only had to move out of my (cluttered, over-stuffed) classroom, but I had no classroom of my own to move into! I had to go through the difficult process of purging all of my carefully saved odds and ends that I had been keeping for some future project. Then I found out that our city's Children's Museum welcomes donations of the very kinds of potential art materials that I had! I'm happy to know that much of my "trash" will become "treasure" that will inspire young museum visitors to create wonderful things!

good idea

Thanks for all the information you post. I have taught special education for 25 years and have relocated and will be teaching fourth grade! Since my program was developed to create independence in learn ears in general Ed classrooms, we always used their materials. So I have been exposed to great projects and ideas. I'm very nervous about setting up these projects on my own. Any ideas would help. I know to keep it simple but I am an overachiever and like my things put together well. Thanks for sharing.

As for those old books and encyclopedias that are no longer being used give them away to students. I recently gave a set of encyclopedias away to a student who is constantly asking questions. I had the mother come to school to pick them up and both she and the student were very thankful. I knew they were going to a good home and would be used often.

Good idea. I guess I was thinking of some that were way past usable (mold and mildew from old school, poot storage, etc.) We usually put all of our unwanted items in a central place and other teachers can take what they want. It cuts down on things going unused!

Hi April.

I teach at an IB school too and I'm grades K-5. Have you used the online curriculum center for IB.

These are really great suggestions!


Thank you for this. I am moving to a new grade next year, from Pre-K to grade 4. It is a big change, and I am kind of freaking out inside which one I should be organizing first. I teach in an IB PYP school and four of the units for grade 4 next year will be brand new. This information you gave is very helpful; it gives me direction which one I should pay attention to first. Thanks!

I was reading through this post and could feel your pain about being scared to switch grades. I'm moving buildings plus switching grade levels...from third to kindergarten. That's too bad we switched the opposite way or we could have helped each other out :) Good luck with your transition...you'll be glad you made the change later on.

Stephanie Ann
Sparkling in Kindergarten

You are so welcome and I hope it helps! We had 16 teachers move classrooms, even if they weren't moving grades, the last few days of school. It was chaos in many ways, but hopefully I did some things that helped the person coming in my room at least! Good luck! I love 4th grade! :)

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