Starting a new job is exciting, but also nerve wracking. There’s a steep learning curve when you join a new international school – but there are some strategies you can employ to make sure you get off to a flying start in your new role.
1. Get organised
Choose your to-do list format on the first day, and write everything down in the same place. Whether you’re a digital native or prefer the analogue paper and pen, keeping everything on one list will help you to manage your workload.
Keep it close to hand so that you can note things down as and when you need to do them – that way you won’t forget anything. It will also help you to prioritise important tasks. For example, if your head of department asks you to do something, put it to the top of the list.
2. Ask lots of questions
Every school has their own procedures and systems which can seem incomprehensible until you’re used to them. The only way to learn about the school culture is to ask lots of questions. Sometimes, in staff meetings, it can be tempting to nod along, but you’ll only end up feeling confused.
The same goes for acronyms. Whether it’s other teachers talking about the CATs (curriculum attainment targets) or discussing PIPs (performance improvement plans), it’s easy to feel lost in the conversation.
But it can be hard to interrupt and ask for clarification. After all, teachers are busy people – and nobody has time to hold your hand. The good news is that your colleagues do want to help you – after all, they were all in your shoes at one point or another. So every time you have a question, just ask. If it’s not an appropriate moment, make a quick note and ask someone later on in the day.
3. Seek out a mentor
Mentors are incredibly important when it comes to a successful career in any field. And a good teaching mentor will provide you with that crucial support in the first weeks and months in your new school. You might be assigned a mentor as part of starting your job – but if not, actively seek one out.
The best teaching mentors will give you a new perspective on challenging problems, help you to navigate difficult interactions with students and other staff, share their classroom management wisdom and improve your teaching practice in general.
In your first few weeks, ask to sit in on the classes of other teachers in your department. Chat to your colleagues in the staffroom. If there is someone that you particularly gel with, or a teacher whose teaching style and presence you find inspirational, ask them if they’d be willing to mentor you. Most people will be flattered to be asked, and enjoy sharing their hard-won wisdom.
4. Build your network
Building good relationships with your students and colleagues will make all the difference to your experience in a new international school.
Using your students’ names will make a big difference to your interactions with them – it makes them feel like they are important. Although it can be overwhelming to learn so many new names at once, it’s worth putting the time in. So on your first day in each class, ask your students to make name cards and keep them on their desks. Then, at the end, take five minutes, get the class to hide their nametags, and see how many students’ names you can remember. Make it into a game – your students will enjoy it!
It’s also important to build relationships with your colleagues – and that doesn’t just mean the teachers. Take the time to introduce yourself to the cleaning staff, the janitor, the cafeteria staff, the tech support and the admin staff. That way they’ll be there to help you out in a tight spot. And an insider tip for learning your colleagues’ names – ask to borrow the yearbook from the previous year to help you match names to faces!
5. Give yourself time to settle in
The first three months of a new job are undeniably frustrating. It’s hard to constantly feel like you’re asking for clarification, or getting things wrong, or not working to the best of your ability. But it’s not realistic to expect that you’ll have got to grips with everything that is expected of you in the first week or two – especially if in taking up your new role, you have also moved to a new country.
So remember to give yourself time, be patient with yourself, and expect mistakes and confusion while you’re learning the ropes. By the second term, you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve learned. And if you’re really struggling, ask your head of department or a member of the management team for feedback on how you’re doing. They’ll be able to offer you concrete, practical suggestions for improvement.
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