From new teacher to colleague

I’m a new teacher fresh out of college, and I took a job as a chemistry teacher in a different state. I had a good student teaching experience, so I’m okay with the students and the curriculum and I love the area, but as a newbie I feel isolated from the other teachers who already know each other. I want to establish positive relationships with the other teachers and staff, but I’m not sure how to start. (My school does not have a formal mentoring or orientation program.)
—Jason, Boston, Massachusetts

No matter where you teach, teaching can be a solo job. Unfortunately, once the classroom or lab door closes, you’re often on your own. But most teachers are helpful people. Your new colleagues and administrators want you to succeed, but they might be hesitant to offer advice, wanting not to offend you. They may not realize you’re new to the area. And they’re not deliberately ignoring you—they’re busy with their own challenges. Here are some things you can do to connect with your colleagues.

Greet other teachers (by name once you learn them) in the hallway or the faculty room. Re-introduce yourself and ask questions. Everyone likes to feel needed, and you can gather advice from veteran teachers: “How do you handle test make-ups?” “What do you do to engage students?” Even experienced teachers like to be recognized for their work: “Your bulletin board gave me some good ideas.” “My students were really excited about what you did in class yesterday.” This could open the door to more conversations. If teachers or administrators offer suggestions, don’t come across as a know-it-all (even if you do know it all!). If a teacher offers advice, thank them without saying “I already know that.”

During department or faculty meetings, as the “newbie” on the staff, you can observe the personal dynamics and listen to the conversations. But you don’t have to be a silent observer. Speak up and ask questions: “Why do we…?” “What would happen if…?” “What is the purpose of…?” These questions can lead to interesting discussions about school practices.

If you haven’t done so already, get on good terms with those many cite as the most important adults in the school—the office and custodial staffs. Office staff members are the “go-to” people if you have questions about school procedures, supplies, and deadlines. As a science teacher, the custodians are invaluable allies in maintaining a clean, safe, and secure lab. A friendly good morning and thank you are greatly appreciated.  The school or district safety officer can also be an ally in maintaining your inventories and fostering safe practices in your lab.

Attend school functions such as plays, concerts, or sporting events. Many other teachers will also be there, and the students and parents will also appreciate your interest and support. You can also get to know other teachers by co-sponsoring an extracurricular activity or being part of a coaching staff.

If the opportunity arises, volunteer for a committee or task force. Join professional development study teams or book discussion groups. You can offer a fresh view of situations from the perspective of a newer teacher. You may have useful skills in technology, writing, or presenting. If you’re a recent graduate, your science content knowledge may include experience with cutting-edge topics.

There are those who suggest new teachers should stay out of the faculty room. I’ve been in dozens of them, and most are welcoming places where teachers socialize, relax, and talk to each other. Eat lunch with other teachers there instead of by yourself in your room (it’s not a good idea to eat in a lab, anyway). If you do find that the faculty room is a toxic pit, then by all means find someplace different to hang out. You’ll want to be around colleagues who have a positive attitude and a sense of humor.

If you’re invited to join a group for a cup of coffee or dinner, accept the invitation. These social activities help you to learn the culture of the school. Positive colleagues can provide emotional support and share their (mis)adventures as a beginning teacher.

And when you’re a veteran teacher, remember your experiences and extend a welcome to your new colleagues. They’ll appreciate it.

 

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeremywilburn/5229139935/

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