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…
1. 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 and 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.
6. 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.
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?
“Falling Teacher” by pitel
“Washington Ducks” by phpein
“Prof Kouvel at the Copy Machine” by marc_buehler
“Moss Park Ride” by striatic