How to fit in fast when teaching at a new school

Moving jobs means ditching old habits, trying to blend in and forging friendships. English teacher Grainne Hallahan shares her advice on what not to do in your first few weeks

Grainne Hallahan

How To Fit In At Your New School

On their first day at a new school, teachers can feel as nervous as the students. There is so much change to take in that just locating your in-tray in the staffroom can feel like an achievement.  

Moving to a new school can certainly be nerve-wracking but you shouldn’t let the jitters put you off making a move that could be a great career step for you. 

So, when navigating the new waters, here are some things you should try not to say or do – and some of the things you should – if you want to minimise the impact of your move.

‘I’ve got an idea. What we did at my old place was...’

When starting a new job, constantly referring to the great things your old department did is akin to telling your new lover how great your last partner was in bed. It just ain’t done.

That’s not to say that bringing across ideas and good practice isn’t appropriate – of course it is. But introducing a new department to ideas you’ve used before needs to be approached with sensitivity. Nothing can be more frustrating than a new colleague who thinks they know what will fix a problem that they actually have no experience of.

It can be easy to get carried away when you’re faced with a problem that you’ve solved before: you can think you have easy solutions and the experience to help. But as a new member of staff, what you don’t have is knowledge of this particular context. Your idea may well work, it may be exactly what the school needs, but you need to listen to your new department first.

‘You can’t send me out. I’ve not had three warnings’ 

Behaviour policies need to be the first thing a new member of staff is given once they have their timetable. Sending a new troop out into the field without arming them with a behaviour policy is just bad management.

All new starters, especially mid-year starters, need to have the same considered induction. And this induction should begin with the behaviour policy. The first you hear about the warning system shouldn’t be when little Morgan is yelling out the rules to you as you try to calm the class down.

If you don't automatically get given the policy, ask for it.

‘Watch out for that one – absolutely useless’ 

As a newcomer, the best advice when it comes to gossip is to say nothing, repeat nothing and give it no thought. If a person is “absolutely useless” then there is no need for someone else to tell you that; I’m sure you can work it out for yourself. This applies to staff and students: form your own opinions, and take advice with a smile and a pinch of salt.

When you start somewhere new, you walk into a department with its own microclimate of political tensions and allegiances. The best thing is to just wait, suss out the lay of the land and keep your own counsel.

‘Help! I haven’t got enough tables’ 

For an easy start at a new school, you need to make the right friends. And the first people to make friends with are the site staff.

The site managers and cleaners are the most important people in a school. They will help you when you discover that your key doesn’t unlock room 10 where you’ve been given cover, or when you discover that three chairs are broken and you’ve got a class of 33 after lunch. So, seek these members of staff and introduce yourself as soon as you can. You never know when you might need to call on one of them.

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