Survival in the classroom jungle

14th January 2000 at 00:00
Starter packs and survivial kits. Who needs them? Why, all new and long-serving teachers, say four TES writers.

During a recent holiday in the US, I came across an article in the New York Times which surveyed a selection of fresher's survival kits. The article gave an example from 30 years ago when female newcomers to St Lawrence University were greeted with boxes of Summer Blonde hair dye.

"Everyone showed up to dinner that first night with bottle-blonde hair," recalled Nancy Serrel, an alumna.

Things have changed and today's fresher's kit is more likely to contain a college policy statement, a squishy stress ball or mouse pad or even a bleeper to stay in touch with college.

At Loyola University, Chicago, freshers are encouraged to purchase a goldfish, tank, and accessories for the subsidised price of $5. According to programme administrator Deb Biwer, "It's nice for them to have something to take care of."

So if American institutions are competing to think of welcoming gifts, what should British teaching colleges and schools be providing as a welcome?

Up-market colleges and universities may favour supplying a metal whistle to student teachers for games sessions on school experience. Others might supply a crystal ball to help predict DfEE initiatives. The list could be endless.

The important thing is that newcomers feel part of the team.

For those wrking in a new school, a suggested survival kit may include: a school brochure, staff handbook (including such information as resources, school procedures, and communication processes), a plan of the school, a list of the staff and management structure, including a named support person, copies of relevant school policies (such as health and safety, teaching and learning, management of behaviour and special educational needs), basic information about the class, including different pupils' health and special needs, and groupings of pupils.

A classroom which is not ransacked for the best equipment by colleagues during summer holiday will help a newcomer, as will a new whistle for games lessons.

After a few weeks, the new teacher should be encouraged to feed back their views about the usefulness of the items and information they were given.

Were they overwhelmed by the volume? Were there gaps, or was the right mixture provided? This should be done early in the year before it is forgotten.

The survival pack and induction process needs careful consideration if it is to succeed in its aim; to welcome new colleagues and support and empower them from the start.

Incidentally, I wonder what the feedback was from students from Loyola on adopting a fish?

Michael Brockett is a Croydon headteacher and visiting lecturer in education at Roehampton Institute, London

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