What’s the hardest elementary grade to teach? I was asked this question the other day while in conversation with an aspiring elementary school teacher sizing up each grade level, trying to figure out which would be the best fit for her.
In a nutshell, I replied…
The hardest elementary grade to teach depends on one’s preferences, personality, and experiences. How you define “hard”, whether that be physically, emotionally, or mentally, contributes to your threshold of tolerance. So essentially, the hardest primary grade to teach is the one that has the most deal breakers for YOU. And that’s subjective.
Though many people equate “hard” with level of physical exertion, teaching another person, especially little munchkins 😋 can take an emotional toll that at times goes way beyond words.
That emotional toll affects your mental state which in turn can affect your physical and mental health, and the cycle continues.
But which is worst for you? Mental, physical, or emotional stress? Which of these states really strike your “pain” points? What bothers one person isn’t a big deal for another, so it’s important to understand yourself and your breaking points/tolerance levels for various things.
Reflecting on these questions carefully will help you answer the question, “Which is the hardest elementary grade to teach?”
What’s the Hardest Elementary Grade to Teach? 9 Teachers Share Their Opinions
I reached out to nine of my teacher colleagues and asked for their true opinions. All have been teaching for at least 5 years and have taught in at least two grade levels.
Below are the results of what I discovered.
Hopefully this information will help you make a sound decision about which elementary grade is “hardest” or “easiest” and therefore help you determine which you’d most like to teach!
Pros: “I love teaching kindergarten so much. For many of them, it’s their first time in a formal school setting, so I’m shaping how they see “Big School” for the very first time! Previously I taught preschool, and I never thought I’d move to Kinder, but it’s so cool. Teaching them colors and numbers is nice, but what I most enjoy is the imaginative play time and the teaching of basic skills that they’ll use for the rest of their lives. And yes, they’re really cute and lovable! I like hugs. When there are behavior issues, it’s mostly done in innocence. This is the perfect age for me to help mold their actions.”
Cons: “Oh gosh, kinder! I just can’t. I did it for a bit during my student teaching, and I realized then that it wasn’t for me. They’re so squirmy, touchy, and extremely needy. I can’t get down with all those germs, runny noses, and other uncontrollable bodily fluids. And the curriculum was just too basic for my tastes. I honestly wasn’t that thrilled with teaching such simple concepts though I know those skills are uber important. My preference is to analyze and discuss figurative language in a novel with a bunch of fifth graders, you know? I definitely think kindergarten is the hardest elementary grade to teach!”
The Verdict: Which of these factors is a dealer breaker for you? Do you have more pros or cons? If you list more cons than pros, kindergarten may not be the best fit for you.
Pros: “First graders are more independent than kindergartners. They enjoy school and want to do a good job for the teacher. At this age, they’re becoming more aware that their actions have consequences so it’s rewarding to see them trying to make good choices. Another plus is that we have no state testing! That by itself makes me content to stay put in first grade!”
Cons: Some tattle quit a bit, and it’s mostly over nothing. The responsibility of teaching these beautiful children how to read is all on you! You don’t want the second grade team giving you the evil eye next year (giggling)!”
The Verdict: Think first grade might be a good fit for you? Do you have more pros or cons? If you list more cons than pros, first grade may be a hard elementary grade for you to teach.
Pros: “Being a guy, I was definitely a little nervous about teaching such a young age, but I’ve found them to be really awesome. Before this, I taught fifth grade, and they can have major attitude. Second graders are a welcome calm in that regard. And they really want to do their best for the teacher.”
Cons: “As far as cons, I’m kind of disappointed that some of them still occasionally wet themselves. What makes it frustrating is that they don’t ask to go to the bathroom in time. I don’t quite get that yet. They do tattle a lot, so if anyone has any solutions for that problem, I’m all ears.”
The Verdict: Can you see yourself in second grade? Among general teacher public opinion, it’s not considered the hardest elementary grade to teach, but everyone’s different. Teaching this age could be a major no-no for you.
Pros: “I’ve taught third grade most of my teaching career, and I love it. They are sweethearts who respond positively to your support, and they love you so much. Something starts to change when they enter fourth grade, so I soak in all of their affection and adorableness before they turn cray-cray!”
Cons: “Third grade is the beginning of standardized testing! Enough said!”
The Verdict: Think you have the heart to teach third grade? Is standardized testing a deal breaker for you? State testing was absolutely my least favorite thing about teaching third grade, but my pros outweighed the cons. What about you? Do you think third grade would be the hardest elementary grade for you to teach, especially with the testing craze?
Pros: “The curriculum is my favorite thing about fourth. Two years ago, I taught high school English. After returning from maternity leave, I had the option to take a fourth-grade English Language Arts position. I took it because the schedule was better for me as a new mom. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine how much I would enjoy teaching at this level. During book clubs, we have deep discussions about the book. Their deep thoughts amaze me! I’ve really found my calling with this age. As far as discipline, I’ve had no major issues, but I’m coming from high school which is a different ball game. So I guess my tolerance is higher since I’ve “battled” high schoolers.”
Cons: “I’m not a fan of standardized testing~it gives me so much anxiety! We have three tests to cover: reading, writing, and math. The pressure of those exams is what makes fourth grade the hardest elementary grade to teach, in my opinion. Some students enroll a few weeks before the test is administered, and that sends my stress levels through the roof because we are blamed if they don’t do well. Also, I have fourth graders reading two years below grade level. It’s hard to catch them up with little support and limited resources. Behavior is sometimes an issue like talking back. Cliques are common too (especially during lunch and recess), and trying to help kids who feel excluded gets exhausting.”
The Verdict: Which of these factors is a dealer breaker for you? Do you personally have more pros or cons? If you list more pros than cons, teaching fourth may be the elementary grade for you! Personally, I loved fourth grade the most!
Pros: “I always have people commenting that fifth grade must be the hardest elementary grade to teach because of hormones, attitudes, and the curriculum. For me, the curriculum is intellectually stimulating. I can have interesting conversations and share deep thoughts about books with students. I like the idea of preparing them for middle school and watching them transition from elementary. We departmentalize, so I also enjoy teaching three different groups of kids in a day. The kids are very independent, and with the appropriate structure, they are amazing forces to be reckoned with!”
Cons: “Fifth graders sometimes arrive to school upset for no reason (hormones I guess). They can have major attitude, but if you speak with them, they can at least talk through their feelings. As a teacher, the pressure of standardized tests is sometimes intense plus there are lots of papers to grade. Fifth graders have to cover a lot of content, so I feel like the paperwork never ends. Parents can be a little anxious because they are seeking guidance on how to best help their child transition to middle school smoothly and successfully. So you find yourself supporting not just the child but their parents too.”
The Verdict: Fifth grade~ what a special grade! Do you see many of these factors as deal breakers? Do you have more cons than pros? If so, teaching fifth grade may be the hardest elementary grade for you to teach.
At the end of the day, only you know what feels right for YOU!
Notice that more than one teacher brought up the issue of standardized testing. Many educators argue that the hardest elementary grade to teach is one with standardized testing pressures. It’s something to seriously think-through if you’ll teach a testing grade.
I did it for years and wasn’t a fan, but I managed. Educate yourself and prepare mentally. Below are two articles that discuss the realities of standardized testing in elementary schools. The third link shares a more balanced perspective regarding these exams.
This is what I hope you took away from this post…
What’s considered “hard” to teach at the elementary level is subjective. Only you know what’s a deal breaker for you, and that will depend mostly on your preferences, personality, and tolerance level.
Each elementary grade level has its unique challenges. The key is to realize what is most challenging for YOU, not what others think should be considered “hard” for you.
Keep in mind, too, that some years will be great and others not-so-great. You may get a “bad batch” of kiddos one year that could permanently alter how you perceive a specific grade level.
Whichever elementary grade you choose (or are assigned), you can make it “less hard” by seeking support from colleagues who have “been there and done that” successfully.
Happy teaching and learning,
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