Three Years, Three Teaching Assignments

By Nick McDaniels — During my teaching interview two years ago, I remember saying something that might have ultimately sealed my principal’s decision to hire me.

I said, “You know, I’d really love to teach 9th grade.”

I know now, after sitting on some teacher interview panels, that a teacher requesting a 9th grade teaching assignment during an interview is about as likely (and as appreciated) as an interviewee leaving a tip for their interviewers.  The truth is, many teachers do all that they can to avoid teaching 9th grade. It is commonly believed that teaching freshmen should be left for the foolish and wildly energetic. Fortunately for me, if you ask my wife, I am equal parts foolishness and energy. As a result, I have thrived teaching 9th graders for my first two years in the classroom.

In my first year, my teaching assignment consisted of three standard 9th grade English classes, the smallest of which contained 38 students at the beginning of the school year. Many 9th graders are considered undesirable pupils because of their boundless ability to disrupt learning, not follow directions, and unwillingness to complete work. While I found this reputation to be in part true, I very much enjoyed the challenge that 9th graders posed for my budding classroom management strategies and I also thoroughly enjoyed providing the care it takes to help students transition from the small and structured world of middle school, to the large and free world of high school.

Because of restructuring in my school, I spent my first summer vacation preparing for a slightly different teaching assignment. During my second year, I was scheduled to teach two classes of standard 9th grade English and one class of honors 9th grade English. Having a second year of teaching the standard 9th grade class made a world of difference as many of my lessons were already planned and merely needed tweaking and I could spend more of my planning time developing creative assignments and grading papers. The 9th grade honors assignment provided a new challenge that took considerable time in planning and preparation as the curriculum is more accelerated and involved at least six different novels than the standard curriculum. The free time I gained by teaching standard 9th grade English for a second year was immediately reinvested into developing lessons and activities for honors English, thus giving me, in part, that new teacher feeling all over again.

Now beginning my second Summer vacation, I have learned that I will have a new teaching assignment for next year. If nothing changes (and things often change), I will be teaching two classes of standard 10th grade English and one class of honors 10th grade English. For most teachers, this would come as a welcomed reward for paying the dues of teaching 9th graders for a few years. I, however, still like 9th graders and would still teach them if given the opportunity. Fortunately for me, I will get to “loop” with some of my students, having many of them for a second year. These students will already be aware of my expectations and strengths. This, theoretically, will translate into greater student achievement, especially for those that made connections with me as a teacher, and especially on standardized tests.

In Baltimore City, 10th grade English is the tested grade level as all students completing 10th grade English are required to take the Maryland High School Assessment for English. This challenge is exciting and one that will take considerable Summer preparation and will result in increased pressure throughout the year.

In all, I am excited for the different opportunities I have had to grow as a teacher, and I am complimented by the fact that I am trusted to make such changes from year to year. I will miss teaching 9th graders, supporting students that are experiencing so many new things in such a short amount of time, but I will be happy to see students mature in new ways.

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