So, you’re starting a new job. You’re probably 1 part excited to 9 parts terrified. Don’t worry: that’s fairly normal. This post aims to suggest 10 straightforward ways to settle in to your new role whether you’re an NQT or an old lag in a new school; a fast track careerist or frantically treading water. It might sound a bit Machiavellian and cynical, but these ideas will make your life easier and happier.
1. Get noticed
Most schools have some sort of staff briefing one or more times a week. Say something. Not too often or for too long, but say something about what you’re doing, students’ successes, a child in your tutor group. This gets you on people’s radar and as long as you don’t irritate or bore them, this is a good thing. You can also get stuff on daily email briefs in lots of schools – let people know what you’re up to, blow your own trumpet ‘cos no one else is likely to.
2. Volunteer for stuff
Again, not too much or too often. Schools will happily suck the flesh from your bones if you let them so be judicious about this. I’d recommend something which gets you out of your faculty/department and meeting new, and hopefully, interesting people. This will allow you to make allies with likeminded people across the school as well as getting you noticed as a keen bean by the leadership team
3. Go out of your way to be nice to support staff
This cannot be stressed enough. Make it a priority to find out who the caretaker is and engage him in conversation about graffiti on chairs or how hard chewing is to get out of carpet. Do not ask for anything. Rinse and repeat with the person in charge of reprographics, the IT support team, the office staff, cleaners etc. This will pay huge dividends when you actually do ask them for something. If they know and like you they are much more likely to want to help you. This sounds terribly manipulative, but it’s important to remember that these people work terribly hard behind the scenes to make teachers look good – they’re human too.
4. Do stuff for your head of department
I love it when people volunteer to do stuff without being asked. There are always a range of jobs that need to be done in any faculty from tidying the stock cupboard to running detentions. In a smaller department this is even more crucial – one team member not pulling their weight really antagonises those who are. Also, if you’re up for doing some of the rubbish jobs you can be sure that when the ‘treats’ get handed out your name will be near the top of the list.
5. Do at least one lunch duty a week
This gets you out and about and noticed by the kids as well as other staff. It also means that you’ll see students in a different context and really helps to build your relationships with them. Do not be tempted to join in their football game though – this is a sure fire way to make a fool of yourself. It’s also worth finding where students go to smoke and then never EVER going anywhere near it. Who needs that grief?
6. But don’t work through your lunch break
In my school the staff room is very underused and every faculty has their own social area. This is great for getting to know the people in your team but that will happen anyway. Try eating lunch in the canteen (if you’ve done No. 5 you may even get a free lunch!) as well as in the staff room. Make a point of chatting to the PE tribe and the maths clan and finding out who does what. Just don’t stay in your room planning the afternoon’s lessons. This may seem like a good use of time but you’ll benefit far more from some adult interaction.
7. Stand outside your classroom between lessons
This is vital. Not only does it calm students as they leave and enter your room, it also makes you present in the school. The battle for schools is won or lost in the corridors – pick up litter; tidy displays; engage students in conversation. Let them know you’re there. Do not, under any circumstances, be tempted to shout at them shout at them. You may see more experienced staff doing this and children meekly obeying, but it’s not going to work until they know you and realise it’s not worth them refusing to comply. Other teachers will appreciate your presence – it helps to make you feel part of a team and not just an isolated adult among a seething tide of feckless children.
8. Share your resources
Far too many teachers keep stuff to themselves. Maybe they think other people won’t be interested or worry that what they’ve produced isn’t good enough. I make a point of emailing any interesting lessons I’ve taught around to my colleagues. Generally they appreciate it and often they send stuff back. Sharing your work lets people know how creative and hardworking you are as well as just being helpful.
9. Take part in staff socials
These are often dreadful and can be particularly daunting if you’re new. It does pay to go though. You get to see a new (possibly unwelcome) side of your sober straight-laced colleagues. I’d advise against getting too inebriated – especially if the Head’s likely to be there. Most departments organise a couple of outings a year and they are an important part of fitting in. Gone sadly are the days when teachers would go out for a few pints on Friday lunchtime, but it’s worth finding out who meets up after school for a natter. It’s a great way to get a handle on your school’s gossip, but I would avoid joining the ‘whiny teacher club’. It may surprise you to hear it but there are some teachers out there who don’t seem to like teaching much. Avoid them.
10. Take time
Obviously it’s a cliché that it takes time to fit in, but it also requires a commitment of our time. Don’t shoot off home at 3 o’clock. Don’t bury your head in marking. Invest a little time in chatting; blow off some steam; swap amusing stories about the kids’ ‘hilarious’ antics; show people you are a human being. You’re going to (hopefully) spend a fair bit of time with these people so it’s well worth getting to know them. To paraphrase the words of Feargal Sharkey, a good colleague is hard to find.