I am a second-year teacher teaching fifth-grade in an urban elementary school. A day in the life of a fifth-grade teacher ranges from hectic to insane. The demands on my time are extreme and every hour requires me to make approximately a million decisions. A day in the life of a fifth-grade teacher includes precious little time to rest or relax. Survival is the only real option.
Even though classes do not start until 9:05 am, I typically arrive around 8 am to prepare for the day. Contrary to popular opinion, a day in the life of an elementary school teacher does not start when the students arrive. I need to prepare the room and my lessons. I typically need to unstack the chairs from the night before when the janitor swept the floor. I need to make sure we have plenty of sharpened pencils because nothing slows down a lesson more than a line of students at the pencil sharpener.
I boot up my laptop and connect it to the Smartboard and speakers and then open my file for the day which includes everything from morning work to the last lesson of the day. I sort through the mail in my mailbox and complete any paperwork I find there. I also check my email and respond to messages from parents, teachers and my principal. Finally, I head down to the copy room to request copies and make sure that I have all the materials I need for the day’s lessons.
The students start to arrive in my room at 8:50 am but because of some late buses, some students do not arrive for another fifteen minutes. I must be ready with a morning assignment on the board. Any idle time leads to conflicts, complaints and other off-task behavior. I typically choose a math assignment that reviews ideas we learned the day before. I also have to take attendance on one of our classroom computers.
I start a read-a-loud lesson using the text we are currently reading. Right now we are reading “The View from Saturday” by E.L. Konigsburg. I read 10-15 pages, stopping periodically to lead a discussion about the reading skills for the week. Fifth-grade students are capable of having in-depth conversations about inferences and connections they make with the text. This is my favorite part of the day.
A day in the life of a fifth-grade teacher must include a lesson planning period, at least according to our union contract. At this time, my students go to special area (either P.E., library, art, or music). I catch up on paperwork and try to grade as many papers as possible during this time. I usually also eat lunch during my planning period because this is the last real break I get all day.
The 26 students return from special area and we continue our reading lesson. The students write in their reading notebooks, focusing on literary elements like setting, foreshadowing or figurative language. They enjoy self-selected reading until lunch. During this time, I conference with students about the book they are presently reading. My fifth-graders are required to read a chapter book (novel) every week at home.
The students go to lunch. Sometimes I let three or four students eat in the classroom as I scurry around, preparing for math.
I pick up the students from lunch and we use the restroom. We return to class for our math lesson.
This is my second favorite part of my day as a fifth-grade teacher. Math at this level is interesting and engaging. We work on concepts like volume, numerical operations, geometry and data analysis. Math is very labor intensive because of all the materials (graph paper, scissors, tape, rules, calculators, notebooks, workbooks, computers, etc.) we typically use.
I am exhausted by this point in the day, but there is no time to rest. We start our social studies lesson at this time. I cannot just teach out of the book because I will lose my audience immediately. I must use tools like photographs (that I have printed and laminated the night before) or video recordings (that I have located online the night before) or maps that I have scanned into my computer.
Students can get very distracted in the mid-afternoon and I change my approach based on how they are acting on a given day. Sometimes we even do jumping jacks or jog in place for two or three minutes just to release some of their fifth-grade energy!
The students love science time, but it is just as labor intensive as math! Currently we are studying Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, and yes we have fourteen of them in habitats (that I made) in our classroom. Need I say more?
Writing time can be calm or completely hectic, depending on the day. I play soothing music from Pandora.com on the classroom speakers to help ease them into an appropriate transition, but success is never assumed (or even anticipated). We write feature articles, narrative articles and other pieces required by our fifth-grade curriculum.
The students leave. I go back to our classroom library and rest on a pillow.
Some days I stay until 5 pm, and other days I leave now depending on my mood and my family’s schedule. I have two young daughters and my wife works as an accountant, so we switch afternoon pick-up duties from daycare.
However, many days I have additional job duties. Sometimes I must attend a team-leader meeting until 5 pm. On some days I must attend a professional development meeting elsewhere in the city. I also sponsor the academic team so I must schedule practices. On other days, students in my class stay after school to help organize the room or for small-group tutoring.
8:00 pm – 10:00 pm
A day in the life of a fifth-grade teacher does not end when the teacher’s own children go to bed. I still have papers to grade. I need to check my email again and respond to all the messages that accumulated during the day. I need to review my lesson plan for the next day. Tomorrow the cycle starts all over again.
A day in the life of a fifth-grade teacher is crazy and much more demanding than the general public believes. I practiced law for eight years before becoming a teacher, and the demands of a teacher far exceed those of my previous career.
My own teaching experience.