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Advice to a Newbie: Unwritten Rules

Are you a new teacher just starting this fall? Are you a veteran teacher who is transferring to a new building this year? Then you are a newbie. And whether you like it or not, you are probably being viewed that way by your peers on your new school staff. It’s never easy to be new. There are people to meet, names to remember, and unpacking to do. There are bulletin boards, handbooks and lesson plans. There is Open House, opening faculty meetings and finding the bathrooms.

It’s also important to recognize that schools have a culture. There are rules and norms in place, along with traditions. Part of what makes a school a positive or toxic place includes these cultural phenomenon. There are also a few unwritten rules, but they are often the key to a smooth transition and a personally successful school year. I thought I’d share some of the little secrets with you…

moss park ride by striatic1. Know where to park. This may sound silly, but at some schools it is serious business. Should be park in the back? Should you park in the front? Can you park by your classroom? In some schools, there is unlabeled (self-proclaimed) designated parking for staff.

2. Ask how to find/acquire a substitute. Different school systems have different ways of acquiring a substitute teacher. Find out if you need to get your own subs. If you do, be sure to ask around about who are the most effective subs at your grade level/subject area. In some places, you have to call in to a central phone system and report your absences that way. Be sure that you find out what to do and how to do it before you find yourself in an emergency and need the information.

3. If you open it, close it. So that’s just a start, but be mindful of others prof kouvel at the copy machine by marc_buelerand respectful of personal and physical space. If you use the last of the copier paper, refill it. If the toilet paper runs out, let someone know or replace it. If you jam up the copy machine, don’t just leave it for the next person. There’s nothing worse than being on a time constraint and finding a backlogged laminator. Take the time to leave things the way that you found them (or better). If you aren’t sure how to do something, ask!

4. Understand your student demographics. Take a nice long Sunday drive. Find a copy of your school’s district lines and tour your students’ neighborhoods. Don’t close your eyes and really see what is there. There are homes that will look uninhabitable. One of your students may live there. Do you see a group of kids playing at a local playground late into the evening, and totally unsupervised? They may also be yours. Stop at the local store. Look around. Know what your students know. See what they see. It will give you a valuable glimpse into their lives.

5. Be kind and respectful to everyone. In an interview for a principal position, a friend of mine was asked who she thought was the most important person in the school building. Anne answered, “The custodian.” Now, I don’t know if I agree that any one person is more important than another but it is essential that all staff members are viewed as being contributing members to the success of the school. I cannot over emphasize the influence of non-teaching staff members on the school climate.

washington ducks by ehpien6. Be like a duck. In other words, when the rainy days come pouring down, just let it roll off your back. This is something with which I still strive regularly. Teaching is a stressful profession that is tightly wrapped in emotional connections with students and peers. People say things off the cuff and sometimes with lots of emotion. Try to learn not to take it personally.

7. Just smile. When you pass someone in the hall, say “Hello.” Just smile. Nod. Acknowledge the other person. It goes a long way. If you are having a bad day, the addage of “faking it until you make it” is actually pretty effective. School culture is greatly affected by perceived interactions, and the simple ability to pass others in the hallways and smile goes a long, long way.

8. Be yourself! No matter where you are going, you can’t forget where you have been. It has shaped your personal journey and, in turn, your path for shaping the lives of your children. Make your personal culture an integral part of the school’s culture. You are valuable and deserve to be heard. Do not sacrifice who you are in order to fit in to a specific set of expectations. Hear and be heard.

falling teacher by pitel

Good luck with your journey! For others out there reading this who are already integrated into their school’s culture, what advice would you give?

Photo Credits:

“Falling Teacher” by pitel

“Washington Ducks” by phpein

“Prof Kouvel at the Copy Machine” by marc_buehler

“Moss Park Ride” by striatic


23 Responses

  1. Very well said Kelly. I especially like #5. I always remind our faculty and staff that they may be the best thing that happens to a student that day so be aware of how they treat them. I will be passing this along to some people that will be leading our inservices.



  2. I think it’s also important to find a “kindred spirit” on staff whether it be a newbie like yourself or someone you see as a mentor. I connected with a newbie teacher on the first day and we have been each other’s support systems ever since 🙂

  3. Great post, #3 is a biggie! I would add “Seek out the grade level leader and ask advice”. You don’t have to take the advice and the “lead” teacher might not even offer to help you but it goes miles towards being accepted.

  4. Nice list, Kelly! I especially like #’s 5,6,&7. They are great reminders to all of us to be positive and part of the team.

  5. “Do not sacrifice who you are in order to fit in to a specific set of expectations”

    Such good advice. I’ve learned this the hard way. If you try to live up to someone else’s expectations, you are not living your life and will not be happy or effective in or out of the classroom.
    This above all: to thy own self be true.

  6. Excellent post for newbies and ‘oldbies’ alike. I particularly like the parking point (yes, it’s a hot-button issue at my site!) and the one about everyone on staff being important. Thanks!

  7. Great post, Kelly. I might add a few more based on my experience of being a newbie several years ago.

    Know the “communication expectation” of the building/district. Do parents expect to receive phone calls, emails or both? What about grades…is there a student information system? If so, how often should it be updated? (I’m coming from a secondary perspective here)

    I also found it helpful to ask lots of questions? “How do you do _____?” Seek out a colleague or two who seem to be well-respected and ask them lots of questions. Keep in mind that seniority may or may not be consistent with expertise in the field.

  8. Excellent advice, Kelly. There are times when a veteran teacher changes schools and forgets that they are, once again, a newbie. Keep up the great work!

  9. I try to remember that whenever we have a new tchr on staff that we don’t pile him/her w/ extra responsibilities. Even though many of them frequently will volunteer to head up a committee or a task, we try to remind them that their year will be hard enough without their haing to take on extra responsibilities.

    My very first year at the school where I teach now was so wonderful b/c all I had to do was teach. I didn’t coordinate anything – just taught. It made life so much easier for me.

  10. Excellent post! I think the other thing is to go around the school and don’t be afraid to ask question. Stop by the Guidance Office and ask where you find resources you might need. Pop into the Special Ed. department and ask about the guidelines for sending identified students down who might need extra time for test writing or other support. Stop by the Library and ask what resources are available. I think that asking questions always helps and most people are happy to answer them!

    As well, remember how important the secretaries can be in the course of your day! They can provide valuable information as well as help in any number of matters!

  11. Kelly,
    This is a great post! It’s excellent, practical advice for all teachers. I will be sharing it with my new teachers during our orientation in August. Thanks!

  12. What wonderful additions to the list. I feel that these unwritten rules are a great way to feel more integrated into a school. Thanks for sharing, and keep ’em coming.

  13. Great list! I was a know-it-all when I started and must’ve looked like a fool for the first few months because I didn’t know anything… Wish your list was available back then 🙂

    I’ll add just two:

    Take a guided and an unguided tour of the school. I met the custodians on the first day there and simply asked one of the guys if he’d show me “all of the secrets” of the school if he ever had a free minute. Not only did this totally put us on friendly terms (my paper towels never ran out!) but he showed me parts of the school that even teachers who’ve been there 20 years have never seen. I then waited until the other teachers were gone to do my own walking tour – making notes as to where certain things were, checking out how the other classrooms were arranged, checking out the resources in the library, etc. I always felt more comfortable doing this alone so that I didn’t look “lost” while exploring.

    I’d also recommend you learn about building hours and if/when/how to get in after hours or on weekends. My school has an alarm system that needs to be turned off, and there’s only 1 door that we can use if it’s past 9PM or before 6AM. I’d often find myself working on video projects late into the night and would need to activate the alarm when I left.

  14. Wonderful post, Kelly, and some great advice to newbies! I deal with new teachers coming into the district each year as I travel around and introduce them to the technology that their school has to offer. I, often hear many of these questions flying around!!

    Great Post!

  15. Great post Kelly – #1 made me laugh as every school I have taught at has had the unspoken “assigned parking”. It always has been amusing observing how territorial we become over a parking slot. I have seen teachers seriously berate others who have infringed on THEIR parking slot. Being one who has never respected “unassigned assigned” parking I seldom park in the same slot twice in a row and when approached by a displaced colleague will suggest that either we park by first come first choice (I’m always there 30 minutes ahead of anyone else) or maybe we can assign parking slots based on seniority (once again it’s me 😉 )

    As always thanks or sharing. You are always so on target.

  16. Great post. Nice perspective. I love the part about driving through the community that you teach. How many veterans have never done that?

  17. Delightful. Well written. Good advice! Thanks!

  18. Well-written. Wish these had been around when I was a newbie 16 years ago. I especially like #3. Tried to communicate this with the crew @ my place of employ, but they were too thin-skinned to absorb it.

  19. […] Another great source of advice for new teachers can be found in Kelly Hines’s blog post Advice to a Newbie: Unwritten Rules. […]

  20. […] Another great source of advice for new teachers can be found in Kelly Hines’s blog post Advice to a Newbie: Unwritten Rules. […]

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  22. Maybe you should change the blog title Advice to a Newbie: Unwritten Rules Keeping Kids First to something more generic for your webpage you create. I enjoyed the post yet.

  23. You made some nice points there. I looked on the internet for the topic and found most people will agree with your website.

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