Fitting in is a mugs game

31st August 2007 at 01:00
You're desperate for a brew Doris won't mind if you use her mug, surely? Think again, says Sara Bubb.

There are lots of fantastic people in schools who are more than happy to help new teachers, but you need to get along with a whole array of different people.

For a start, get hold of a staff list and try to find out who everyone is. Some schools have a culture of formality where titles are used even in the staffroom. Names are really important: it's not Mr Bleach but Dr Bleach. Don't rub people up the wrong way by not getting them right or abbreviating names in a way that people don't like: is it Vivienne or Viv?

For instance, I really am pretty easy-going but my pet hate is being called Sarah (pronounced Saira) when my name is Sara (pronounced Saara). Not hard, is it? And yet even some people who've known me for years don't get it right. One even calls me Zara. It's OK for my closest friends to call me Sar or my family to call me Saz, but there'd be more than a little frisson if anyone else overstepped the mark.

Who does what? If you understand people's roles, you won't make the mistake of asking the headteacher to help you un-jam the photocopier. There are a wide range of support staff, so it's handy to know key things about the ones you'll be working with: what their role is and the hours they're paid for. I always think the most important people to get on your side are the school keeper, the person who cleans your room and the secretary. Treat these people with the utmost respect. Show an interest in whatever they like to talk about: that grandchild, pet or hobby. If the school keeper is a fervent Chelsea supporter, so are you.

Check out the staffroom culture by watching and trying your best to fit in. What are the systems for tea and coffee? Take your own mug and stuff until you get the lie of the land. What about washing-up or unloading the dishwasher? Where do people sit? Don't make the mistake of sitting in someone's favourite chair or using a mug that belongs to someone else. What time do people arrive and leave? Make sure you're seen to put in the hours.

Most of all, show initiative, but practise professional humility. No matter how good you are, nobody likes an overconfident know-it-all new bug.

Sara Bubb's Successful Induction for New Teachers will be published by Paul Chapman in September

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