Loose talk and sore toes

12th January 1996 at 00:00
'Listen and learn' is the way to win over colleagues, warns Andrew Stokes.

Many newly qualified teachers will be starting their first jobs in September. Fresh from the halls of academe, eager and earnest, they will be anxious to make a good impression and to build a solid foundation for their new career. But unless care is taken, the unwitting may rush headlong into pitfalls that will have the opposite effect.

The newly qualified teacher will soon learn that the success of a school depends on its staff. National curriculums, integrated days, vertical streaming, whole-school planning and the like count for nothing if the staff cannot work together in a co-operative and efficient manner. School success is directly related to the success of the relationships within that tight knit group of diverse personalities.

The first aim is to blend into this established group of individuals. Generally, schools and staffrooms are like villages. The inhabitants view strangers with caution and a certain amount of apprehension. When the novice steps through that staffroom door, their character comes under close scrutiny.

Good qualifications and an impressive CV are important, but most prospective employers take more notice of an unofficial personality analysis from a colleague. A teacher, however skilled, who cannot get on with fellow members of staff will soon inherit a bad reputation and falling career prospects. There are primaries where specific curriculum areas do not get the attention they deserve, simply because the co-ordinator of that subject is disliked.

The newcomer can avoid starting on the wrong foot by using their eyes, ears and common sense. Although the newly qualified teacher is likely to be bursting with ideas and vitality, it is recommended to wait for more than a week before advising colleagues, with 20 years or more experience, on how they can best improve their teaching methods. Better for the novice to put the ideas into practice themselves and, if successful, they will probably be pleasantly surprised at the resulting interest and replication.

The in-comer must tread very warily in the staffroom. Be aware, for instance, of who sits where. Certain locations may indicate relative status and esteem. Avoid embarrassment by not sitting in the head's chair drinking from the deputy head's personalised mug during the first break time.

Some schools are rife with opposing factions. The new teacher must be careful not to get embroiled in any of these cliques. What at first appears to be an attractive and attentive group of people may soon reveal themselves to be exactly the opposite. By associating with them you may alienate your other colleagues.

New teachers need to bide their time and learn about the complex affiliations and connections within the school environment. The newcomer must establish who is who, and who knows who, before confiding their thoughts, worries and grievances. Imagine the discomfort felt when that sympathetic parenthelper who listened so attentively to your list of complaints turns out to be the chair of governors' partner.

Careless talk can cost career prospects. If a conversation is not for general release it is best voiced well away from school premises. Open-plan schools are particularly hazardous for the garrulous. Neither should you gossip about staff or pupils in any tavern likely to be frequented by colleagues, governors, parents or pupils.

Newly qualified teachers will have a happier, more positive outset to their vocation if they heed these few simple criteria: * Listen to advice rather than extending it

* Take time before making judgments about any or anything

* Be prepared to work hard and avoid being last in on a morning or first to the car park at tea time

* Be pleasant and friendly to all school colleagues, both teaching and non-teaching

* Volunteer for extra curricular activities in a manner sensitive t o causing resentment among colleagues who work in these areas.

With just a little awareness of the foibles and eccentricities of human nature, the newly qualified teacher should quickly be confirmed as an accepted member of the school tribe.

Andrew Stokes teaches at Churwell Primary School, Morley, Leeds

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