My Year in 5th Grade

In April 2013, I interviewed for my first teaching position. Student teaching in 1st, I *knew* that I would be a primary teacher. Primary Land was for me. Hands down. No other option.

The morning after the interview, the principal sat me down and offered me a 5th grade. As a first-year teacher, I accepted the position because quite frankly, it was a job. In reality, I was devastated. It was easily 6 weeks (around the end of June) before I could think about 5th grade without crying. Friends, I completely understand this sounds ridiculous and dramatic, but I'm an extreme planner...almost obsessively. I really don't love surprises, and I really do like straight lines. So, this 5th grade curve ball, was devastating.

I stayed this distraught until mid-June, transitioned to ambivalent until August, became hopeful after the 3rd week of school, and was swept-off-of-my-feet in mid-September. 5th grade was made for me. As someone who loves to learn, my desire to learn was satisfied. My inner traveler was fulfilled as I introduced kids to countries and cities they had no idea even existed. The word-nerd in me could rap with the best of P Diddy and Jay Z (maybe I'm taking liberties here). This was it. 5th grade was my home - a place where I could be the best me. It was a place of amazing growth and learning. My biggest lessons this year -

  • Relationships are important to me. Friends, this is honestly, my biggest take-away from this year. I've always enjoyed having a few close friends and being friendly with many others. Honestly, though, before this year, I would have been very comfortable teaching in my own little world, by myself. I never really though I needed people before. Naive? Yes. Ignorant? Yes. Prideful? Probably. But, it's true. I find being around people exhausting. If you met me in person, you'd never know, because when I'm "On" it's game time. Rarely have I so intentionally invested in a group of people, in the way I interacted with Jill, Kelly, and Dianne - the 5th grade team. This group of women allowed me to be all-the-way me and so willingly accepted my quirks. They taught me to laugh at myself and they taught me to be more flexible than I ever wanted. And, they taught me to be fun. They pushed me down the halls in a rollie chair, they fake-punched me (requiring me to fall on the gym floor) during an assembly, they dressed me as a minion, they taught me all about free-pie Wednesday. They taught me when I try something that is spontaneous and outside of my 'box', I can be fun. This year was amazing because of these women. It wasn't the learning or the administration or the books, it was Jill, Dianne, and Kelly who loved me, invested in me, and showed me how important people are.
  • 5th graders are still little, but they want to be big so badly. I loved my kids. Loved them. But, they are not big yet, and they shouldn't be treated like they are. When kids turn'big' there is a feeling like they need to be taught 'hard lessons' and 'learn the hard way' and 'shutdown quickly.' If we consider them little, we are willing to give second chances, willing to take time to explain, and willing to say 'You're right, and I was wrong. I'm sorry.'  How do I know 5th graders are still little? Their hearts can be crushed by us [teachers] in a single call-out, in a single hallway-conversation, in a single note home. We should keep our 5th graders little. It's better for all of our hearts.
  • An excitement for learning can be orchestrated. When you give me a costume or a microphone (i.e. Expo marker) or an auctioneer's voice or a tall chair, I can convince any 5th grader to read any book and be excited about it. Easy peasy. Done. I've got you've covered. 5th graders want to see that you're absolutely, ridiculously excited. When you've done this, you've won their hearts. Remember, their hearts are still crush-able or mold-able or win-able.
  • 5th graders smell, and giving the "Your bodies are changing" talk does nothing. Nothing. Also, around mid-October 5th grade teachers become immune to the smell only to be reminded of it by teachers who do not teach 5th grade. 
  • The testing pressure is real. Student teaching in primary, I had no idea. None. It may be different in different schools (and goodness, I hope so), but the pressure to perform on standardized state tests is significant. It negatively impacts our classrooms, our teachers, and our students. Words such as "On the test in May..." "On KPREP...." "When you take KPREP" came out of my mouth this year, friends, and I felt like a traitor. I felt as if everything I taught before these moments was void. It made makes me feel gross and frustrated and I want to see the alternative. Accountability is necessary, absolute necessary...but it's can't be like this. 
  • 5th grade is a really interesting social experiment  and teachers are privy to observe it. There may never be another place where so much awkwardness, odor, desire to fit-in, and curiosity exists. From this social experiment, 5th grade teachers have the best stories, the best sayings, and the most reasons to laugh. 

After I stopped crying and fell in love with met my 90 kids, 5th grade was phenomenal. It was a challenge (please note - challenges are my favorite!). It was exhausting. Many days, it was beyond frustrating. Ultimately, this year was both satisfying and fun - two things I never expected or even wanted to say about 5th grade. And one day, I would love to return.

Early in June I had the opportunity to interview for a classroom at my dream school (outside of the Ron Clark Academy) - a brand new (only 2 years old),  Light-House school with a young and energetic staff, fantastic leaders, and in my hometown. Signing my contact Friday, I'm comfortable saying that I'll be moving to 1st grade for the 2014-2015 school year.

If there is something I learned this year, it is that change can be phenomenal and it is the best learning tool. I promise I have shed zero tears this year, and I am truly thrilled. Without a doubt, I will dearly miss 5th grade. I'll miss the content, the sassy-ness of the kids, their smell desire to be big...but I am happy for 1st in this moment.

It is going to be wonderful. I am at a school where every teacher I've met has said to me, "You are going to love it here." What a statement! Friends, I'm so excited. I feel like I'm a first-year teacher again and am terrified, but this time, I already know it will be great. There will be a learning curve and some failed ventures, but 1st is going to make for a joyful, loving, and happy 2nd year.

For my friends in Intermediate Land, I'd love for you to stay tuned-in for my adventures. I still have several more intermediate resources in-the-works and several lessons I'd love to share throughout the year. Plus, tech tricks transcend all grades, right? Primary friends - get ready! It's going to be a whirlwind of a year, and I cannot wait to share my 1st year in 1st with you. :)

So, here is to learning and challenges and positve change


  1. As disappointed I am that we won't be sharing "in the trench" stories, I am SO excited for you to be at your dream school and back with littles! I WILL be sharing all your new and great information with our first grade teachers (they are even in our hallway this year, yikes!) and following along on your new adventure. Can't wait to see all the excitement you bring to those little ones. Have FUN!

    1. Thank you, Marcie! I am so appreciative of your amazing support this year. I have absolutely loved being in 5th, but am so excited to explore 1st. It's going to be wonderful. :)

  2. Cathrine,

    As a primary teacher "stuck" in middle-school I COMPLETELY feel for you. My district has a no transfer until tenure policy. When I signed a contract for my first year I figured it was just until the end of the year as I started at the end of October, when I found out I was "stuck" in middle for 3 years I cried almost every day.

    Ultimately I love my district (and want to stay) more than I love primary at the moment, and so I must wait one more year.

    I do love my students. They are super fun and I have learned probably more than I have taught. As I enter my final year before tenure I am torn between the career I know I need to be in for my own happiness and my students, and home that I have developed at my middle school.

    In the end, an unhappy teacher makes for a poor teacher. Not just in academically challenging work, but also in spirit.

    I wish you the best of luck in this upcoming year. I hope that I am writing this blogpost about a year from now when I am able to transfer!

    Lessons With Coffee 

  3. You are not lying about the SMELL!! I burned through more Bath and Body Works Odor Eliminating Wallflowers than I can remember this year! Good luck in first!

    1. Hahaha - love it! :) #onlyteachersofbigkidsunderstand

  4. I loved this post! I felt the same way when I was first offered 3rd. I had my heart set on either the little guys that I could be really animated with or the big guys that I could be real with. I never even thought about the students stuck in the middle. Now, I LOVE my grade and wouldn't want to change.

    Having Class

    1. Same feeling here!! What a blessing to find that we can make a home in any grade. :)

  5. Congrats on your new position! You always need to follow your heart-but it can surprise you on what grade fits best! As someone who thought she would always teach 'littles', but found love in 4th grade, I can completely understand! Good luck and I'm sure you'll be just as awesome!

    :) Kaitlyn
    Smiles and Sunshine

  6. Oh, do I identify with this post! I <3 my fifth graders. I know it's where I'm supposed to be (I guess after 15 years in 5th, that's probably a good thing!) If you ever need someone to test drive your products, keep me in mind! :)

    1. So good to know, Diane! I will definitely let you know. :)

  7. I love "from the heart" posts. I am so proud of you. I brag about you all the time to teachers in my area. Weird..yes, I know, but I won't stop, can't stop sharing your wonderful blog and ideas with those around me.

    Keep up the amazing work. I will continue to cheer you on the entire way and stalk you from good old east Tennessee! :)

    A Rocky Top Teacher

    1. Oh sweet, Sarah! You're one of my favorites. Thank you so much!! :)

  8. Congratulations- everyone in that school is very fortunate to have you, as well! You're so right, every experience can be a learning experience, if we allow it to be :)

  9. You will love first grade!! You will be AMAZING!!! This post is a wonderful reflection :) I cannot wait to follow your adventure as a 1st grade teacher!

    Literacy Without Worksheets

  10. I am in the same kind of situation but switched. I taught 1st grade this past year and I am moving to 4th this year. 1st was hard for me because it's just not were I feel I fit best. I did the best I could but was not always happy with myself and how things were going. I am over the moon about going to 4th and love the women I am teamed with this year. I feel like a first year teacher all over again. Good luck at your new school with your 1st graders!


  11. Loved, loved, loved this post! You truly captured fifth grade in your reflection. I have no doubt that YOU will be successful ANYWHERE. Good luck in first grade. Thanks so much for sharing this post!

    1. Thank you so much, Lori! I learned so much this year and loved sharing it. :)

  12. Catherine, you are such an inspiration! I truly loved reading this post of yours! As I embark on my first year of teaching, I am reminded to be truly thankful for the opportunity to teach my dream grade (kindergarten), yet to be open to the possibilities to come. Who would have known that I would absolutely love substitute teacher 4th grade (my certification goes up to 2nd) when I was petrified of those "big" kids. Your words always strike a chord with me since you were just in my shoes a year ago. I too often find myself in my own little world. At my new school, I will be the only K teacher so forming relationships with other grade level teachers will be at the top of my list. They will keep me sane in a quite often stressful environment! I look forward to bringing true excitement to the classroom next month! I cannot wait to see what ideas you bring for 1st grade. They will be much easier to emulate in a K classroom than 5th grade ideas were! I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I have no doubt that you were placed in that 5th grade for a reason but there is also a reason for why there was an opening at your dream school. Of course there is no better lady for the job! I can't wait to see where the adventure takes us next! Enjoy the rest of your summer and I look forward to seeing all your updates on Instagram!

  13. Congratulations on getting a job at your dream school!

    I can totally relate I taught 5th grade last year (I was really not looking forward to this age of kids, but like you I thought it's a job, so I'll take it, but wow did I fall in LOVE with 5th grade). I too will be moving to my dream school this year (I will be teaching fourth).

    Keep those great resources coming.

  14. I loved your post - especially about the smells - there has been many a time at the end of the day when I have picked up my 11 year old and I have told him to keep his arms glued to his side until he gets home and then its straight to the shower and use his deodorant! The smell!!! I always feel so sorry for his teacher cause I know if mines like that after break time his bunch of friends will all smell the same :)
    Have fun with new little ones, I look forward to reading about your new journey :)
    The Almost Their Height Teacher

  15. Love, love, loved this post!!! You are such an amazing teacher, and students at any grade are so lucky to have you!!! Even though I will miss being upper-grade buddies, I am so excited to read all about your adventures in 1st!! Being at a great school surrounded by great people is going to be so amazing and I'm sure you are going to be such a wonderful addition to their little family!!

    xo Molly

  16. Congratulations on your new position. It is clear you are thrilled about what is to come & for that I am happy for you!! Selfishly, I am sad you won't be in 5th grade anymore as I won't be able to "check-in" on your blog to see what's been working in your room when I'm in need of inspiration...but I look forward to hearing about your primary adventures! Best of luck to you!!

  17. Congratulations on the next step in your journey! It is hard to close one chapter in your life. Just know that far greater things are ahead than any you leave behind. You will do an amazing job!

    Eclectic Educating

  18. Congrats on your move. I have been in your same position my very first year. Same thoughts. I taught 5th grade my first year and moved to 1st grade my second year. I absolutely loved teaching 1st grade. I would have stayed in that grade for years. However, budget cuts forced me to move to middle school!!!!! Cried and cried and same thoughts again.

    Wishing you luck with the little ones. You'll love it.

  19. Catherine,
    Congratulations on your new position. This post was so great..... mostly because it was-so-darn-relatable. I have been teaching for 7 years, taught at 12 schools and have taught every grade except for 6 (changing enrollment + limited hires = I get bumped around). I can't say I have enjoyed each change entering into it, but once there, I couldn't be happier. I would never take back all of the lessons I have learned and new ideas I have gathered from new friends and colleagues.

    Change is hard---- but I do believe that a good teacher, is a good teacher.... no matter the grade or school.

    I wish you the best of luck!
    Looking forward to continuing to read your blog :)

    K&C Love Grade 3

  20. I am amazed that this was your first year!! I am fairly new to reading teacher blogs but yours is one of my favorite. I'm an experienced teacher but find "gold nuggets" in all of your posts. You truly have a gift for teaching, creating & sharing. Best wishes in 1st grade; how lucky your students are!

  21. I really enjoyed reading your post - it is a great reflection on your year in 5th grade. While I would read your blog no matter what grade you teach I am happy to hear you are moving to 1st grade as I am moving to a grade 1/2 split. Can't wait to read about your new adventures.

  22. Fifth grade is definitely not an easy grade to teach but it is very rewarding! This past school year was also my first year, and like you, I taught fifth grade. The experience is something I will cherish forever.
    I remember early 2013 while I was student teaching I had no clue what grade I would like to personally teach. I had been placed in a kindergarten class that I adored but it wasn't until I worked with 4th graders that I knew then that upper elementary is where I belonged. I would not trade anything in the world with my experience as a first year 5th grade teacher. Now, as I enter my second year, I'm equally delighted, but this time i'll be teaching 4th grade. I'll be in a new school, new city, and new grade and I cannot wait for the experiences to come!

  23. Congratulations on your new position! I'm going to first grade too this year, but I'm only going down from 3rd so not as much of an adjustment, but I'm still having trouble wrapping my brain around it. Can't wait to take this journey teacher-blogger to teacher-blogger!! :)

    Little In Betweens

  24. Congratulations! I love your items :) I know EXACTLY how you feel.. I always wanted to be in 4th though. After only being in a year in 4th, I was brought down to 3rd. Not as large of a jump as yours, but a new classroom and new content to go through. Happy 2nd year :)

    A Little of LiLi

  25. I started out in 5th grade and they are great, aren't they? It is fantastic that you had such great team members and were able to develop those great relationships. A strong support system can make even the most stressful situations (tests) easier! Congrats on the new teaching position! I am thrilled to see that you are moving to first because I am too! I've been teaching 4th grade for five years now and I'm so excited and nervous about starting a new adventure in 1st grade, but it's good to know that I won't be alone!
    Polka Dot Lesson Plans

  26. Absolutely wonderful post, Catherine! I am glad that you ended up having such an awesome experience in 5th grade and good luck next year in 1st!! Your resources are amazing and I am still looking forward to following your adventures again (even if I teach 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, Haha).


  27. Congrats on being able to move to a school closer to home, and with a fun staff! Sometimes I think that the staff is what makes your year, even more than your kids! If you have a great support team around you, then you can tackle anything! I wish you the best of luck this year, and I can't wait to hear about all of the fun you will have in first grade!!

    Mrs. 3rd Grade 

  28. Catherine! I LOVED reading this post!! It is so well written, and you had me wanting to teach 5th grade!! Enjoy your year with the little ones. It sounds like a fabulous school!

    Katie :)
    Smiles from Second Grade

  29. This is a wonderful post and as a teacher of slightly older ones (middle school), I can say that the smell does not go away!! :) On the serious side, it is plain to see that you are a very energetic and caring teacher so I am very happy for you with being able to be in a dream school with your dream students! One day I hope to be in a similar position, but I have to wait until my own children are in high school so that I can work out the time/scheduling.

    Mrs. Spangler in the Middle

  30. Catherine,
    As have just finished my first year teaching fifth grade I cannot tell you how hard I laughed about your smelly fifth grader comment. I read this post to a team member of mine as we were planning for the upcoming year and we were in tears from laughing because we could relate - especially about the whole "smell" thing. I absolutely loved this blog post!

  31. WOW! What a huge change! Congratulations on landing a job at your dream school! I can't wait to see how your year plays out!
    Southern Fried Teachin’

  32. Hi Catherine,

    I met you in Vegas and I am doing the opposite of you this year. I started my new school last year and they put me in 2nd grade. I had a choice between 2nd and 5th, but what I really wanted was to be back in 4th. I loved teaching 4th grade. When I went into my 2nd grade classroom, I was nervous and unsure of not only myself, but this classroom. I took over in 2nd because the teacher that was in there the previous years…her daughter was coming into the class and she didn't want to teach her own child. Well, I fell in LOVE with 2nd grade. It was an AMAZING year and I knew that is the grade I wanted to teach from here on out. When my principal called me into her office and told me that the previous teacher wanted to move back into 2nd, I was heart broken. She offered me 5th grade. I told her I would think about it and let her know. After about 3 days, I signed my contract and told her yes. Once again, I am unsure of myself and nervous. However, I know that I loved teaching the bigger kids and I can't wait to see what's in store. Your post gave me hope. It made me tear up a little, knowing that there is someone that went through the same thing I am going through. Thank you for this post. :)

    Hooo-Ray For Teaching

  33. I'm transitioning into first grade this year from fourth but I'm feeling differently from you. I taught fourth for nearly a decade and this move was not my choice. I can only hope that like you, all the worry about the age gap will be for naught and I'll fall in love with my class.

  34. I finally got to read this post (I've been meaning to for days, and I mean that!) After talking with you in LasVegas, I was a little worried about what this post would say. I've never taught big kids, but I do understand knowing where you are meant to be. I feel like I belong in first grade, and I am heartbroken that I am going to Kindergarten. I'm still in that "ambivalent" stage about it, and school starts in a week and a half. YIKES! I'm hoping that Kindergarten will sweep me off my feet. My move was not my choice, and as someone who has been moved against her wishes before, I'm so thankful that you are choosing to move to first to be in your dream school. I think that would make it so much easier to give up 5th grade. I can't imagine teaching in a school where the teachers say "you're going to love it here!" I imagine that this experience teaching first grade will be a positive one, since you're teaching at your dream school and all. :-) And maybe you'll make it back to 5th grade someday. :-)

    Good luck this year!

    Growing Little Minds


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