Usually, this time of year, I would be writing posts about getting organized for the new year. I would talk about getting systems ready for attendance, seating, student restroom visits, behaving with guest speakers, etc. I would be advocating the importance of having at least the first week of lessons mapped out.
This year, however, I started working at a new school and in a new country. Rather than blogging about surviving the first days of school, I was busy actually trying to survive.
There is a huge difference, I discovered, between talking the talk and walking the walk. When you change your work and home location, the things you used to take for granted (where the printer is, how to get copies made, where to find flipchart paper, etc.) are all up in the air. There were so many basics I needed to address before I could even begin to plan or get my tried-and-true instructional systems up and running.
I was curious about how others handle this stress. So, I surveyed my personal learning community on Twitter for ideas. Many of the educators I follow are international teachers, who regularly move from school to school around the globe, so they had lots of experiences to share.
Here are some of the strategies that were shared with me:
Organize Your Emails
Don’t try to read/deal with all the emails you receive. New teachers get lots of emails. For instance, in the first 18 days I worked at my current school, I received more than 200 emails. Rather than trying to read/process them all, a colleague recommended that new teachers come up with a system to sort them. For instance, urgent items would be addressed right away. Other, non-urgent items, would be filed away in their appropriate folders for later.
Remember Your Strengths
New schools have their own ways of doing things. Some of my Twitter colleagues reported that often it was disheartening to realize how underappreciated and undervalued certain strategies and methods were in a new teaching environment. It is not uncommon to hear phrases like “You really need to start…”, or “Here, our focus is on…”, or “We don’t do that here…”: These words can make you feel like all the good practices that you’ve built your instruction with have been unceremoniously kicked to the curb. What I learned was that you shouldn’t totally abandon your good habits and behaviors – what you do still matters. There are, of course, many new expectations that you need to accept and build into your existing structures. I took some time to focus on my keepers. After all, some of these behaviors/practices were the reason you were chosen for your new position. It doesn’t make sense to forget about them. In my new role, remembering and honoring these foundational practices really rescued my frail ego. Once I learned to love myself again, I was able to find ways to successfully bridge the old with the new.
Seek Advice – But Be Selective
When you run into a situation that has you flummoxed, ask for help. But, be careful who to confide in. Look for people who are compassionate – people who will listen to what you need and give you what you need. Avoid those who will overwhelm you. And, as one Twitter mate warned, steer away from colleagues who try to suck you into their behind-the-scene’s drama or conflicts.
Prepare to Sacrifice Time
At your former school, you were in a groove. You were rollin’ along in an almost auto-pilot mode. But, in your new school, everything is new and completely foreign. Things that you could do automatically and with little preparation will now take some thought and more preparation. So, sacrifice some of your free time and do some prep work. Study your new school’s policies and procedures. Play with any new technology. I even found it useful to look at last year’s yearbook to get familiar with new colleagues. It will take some getting used to, but a few hours here and there really add up and will help smooth out your transition.
Learn to Let Go
At the end of the day, sometimes you have to learn to let the past go. For me, I had to recognize that there were, indeed, some great things we did at my former school. I remember the March Book Madness student reading tournament. I will never forget our This Day in History assemblies. As tempting as it is to dwell on these highlights and pine for them, there comes a time to accept that those days are gone. Like other significant losses in our lives, we mourn for them. But, eventually we have to let go and look forward to creating new highlights.
Often we look back at where we were and forget that it took a great deal of time and effort to get to that stage. When we move to a new environment, it feels like we are starting the journey all over again. If we can focus on the growth we are experiencing along the way (and yes, growth is happening!), rather than the day-to-day hurdles, we will enjoy a healthier mental state-of-mind.
Hang in there, fellow newbies!