The first time I moved to teach at a new school, it just so happened that I had to drive past the old school to reach the new one. As I did, I found myself welling up, and I’m not ashamed to say that shortly afterwards I had to pull up in a bus stop just to straighten myself out. I couldn’t be turning up with tears still in my eyes, so I took a few minutes to get sorted and remind myself that it was going to be alright.
It was alright. Eventually. But the first few weeks and months – terms even – were much harder than I’d expected. I was working with nice colleagues, in a role I enjoyed at a pleasant enough school. But it wasn’t the school I’d come to know and love over the past few years. And they weren’t the colleagues I’d laughed and joked with at lunchtimes, or the friends I’d socialised with each term.
We make an increasingly big deal about the transition of children from one school to another and make sure that they’re well prepared and supported, but we don’t have the same steps in place for teachers making a similar move. It’s a big change, though, and if you’ve just started at a new school yourself this year, you may still be feeling that pang of doubt – or even regret.
A tough transition for teachers
For a start, everything is harder when you start at a new school. You suddenly realise how much you knew about the old place, and how much you have to learn about the new. Even though timetables in all schools are very similar, it’s the subtle differences that make change all the harder. Remembering whether assembly is at 10.25 or 10.35 is a complication you’ve not had to worry about before, and getting used to the school day finishing at 3.10pm instead of 3.15pm can set your lessons all out of kilter.
Then there’s a new photocopier to work, a different kitchen to navigate at coffee time, even the etiquette of whether you need to contribute to the tea fund or which tea bags are part of the communal kitty. And that’s before you even begin to mention the actual teaching.
The biggest shock can be the loss of reputation. Often after a few years in one school, your reputation can do some of the legwork for you. New classes have heard rumour of what your expectations are, and a few words spoken to errant pupils at breaktime can quickly become your first impression for some pupils. No such luck in a completely new school; instead every group must test you out to see where your boundaries lie.
You don’t even have the arsenal of pupil names at your fingertips that once was the case. You can certainly learn those in your own class within the first few days, but the other hundreds of children across the school will remain a mystery for some time. It makes managing those minor corridor infractions and playground misdemeanours so much the harder.
You can’t even share the stories of your disasters in quite the same way you once did. Your colleagues may well all seem nice enough, but it takes time to work out who your closest and trusted workmates will be, and so for a while it makes the old colleagues all the more missed.
But rest assured, if this is you this year, that the time will come when those initial struggles will be a distant memory and this new school will likely feel just as loved as your old. In fact, when I left that second school and moved on again, I think there might have been a tear in my eye once more.
Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School, in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979