Supporting ‘New’ Teachers

“If you need extra copies of the student handbook, ask Debbie. Mary has the lunch menus—she asked me to tell you to pick them up since the student helpers aren’t here yet. Also, Jim will be around to see if everyone has enough desks. If not, Bill will bring them to you.”

Who are all these people? I think Mary works in the nurse’s office—why would she have the school lunches? Another Mary? Maybe. Seriously? Now what? This is what I was thinking as I tried to figure out the best way to navigate that first day in a new building.

As I listened to the principal rattle off notes for the faculty, I was feeling absolutely lost. I wasn’t a brand new teacher; I’d taught for four years already and even had tenure. But I wasn’t a veteran teacher either, in the sense that I didn’t even know exactly where my room was. I was kind of invisible, and it was awful.

This is my flashback, but many of you have probably felt the same way I did that day. I was sweating and near tears, had a trunk full of teacherly stuff to lug in, didn’t have a key yet, and this list of names and associated stuff to go with them was the last straw. I walked out of the meeting and out to my car to hyperventilate privately.

How is it that with all the mandates and mentoring programs, schools still get the induction of new teachers wrong? I’m not sure of the answer, and I know that some schools do get it right (please tell us in the comments what you do!), but I’ve heard over and over again stories that are far worse than mine.

Wait, you think, new teachers have mentors, right? This is true—flash forward 14 years, and I am a mentor to new teachers. But I’ll be the first to tell you, until I sat down with one of the teachers I mentored this year, I hadn’t considered so many aspects of what new teachers need—even those who are only new to the building and not to teaching.

I also realized that mentors can’t be omnipresent and know all the information that may be most needed. For the first time, I am seeing the induction process as a building-wide effort, not simply the job of one teacher who is busy too. If we want a professional atmosphere, we need to treat the “new” teachers as valuable members of our school, and that can’t mean walking by without introducing yourself because you still have copying to do.

Here are three tips for educators to consider in order to help make the transition for a “new” teacher of any type easier:

Make sure the new teacher is acclimated:

This may sound obvious, but we are all so swamped on those first days that we may forget to make sure new teachers know where everything they need is located. Obviously, a walk around the building would be nice, but it is probably most helpful if you give the new teacher a cheat sheet. Who is the “you” I am referring to? The principal? The mentor teacher? To be honest, it should probably be both, but if you have a new neighbor on your hall, why not help out from the start? A list with frequently used phone numbers and each person’s role is crucial (e.g., Kathy, ext. 1234, is attendance; Tom, ext. 5678, is head of guidance, but only call him if there’s danger, call Mike, ext. 9123, if it is minor). It can be paralyzing to need something and fear calling the wrong person, and we all know there is a wrong person!

Make sure the new teacher is aware of his or her responsibilities:

The worst possible feeling when you’re new to a situation is not being sure that you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do—that sinking am-I-supposed-to-be-somewhere? feeling, multiplied by the fact that this is your job and you are trying to make a good impression. Don’t assume just because the person has worked at another school that things were the same there.

Individual schools have dramatically different protocols within the same district, and especially across districts. Depending on the situation, the new teacher may not have been categorized in the same way at his or her last school. For example, if you were a sixth-grade teacher new to my building, it might not occur to you that you are part of a subject-area team and a grade-level team, as well as part of the team of teachers you actually teach with. Help the new teacher understand his or her roles.

For goodness sake, invite the new teacher to lunch:

I know, I know. Lunch is for catching up with all your teacher friends, but seriously, you know what they did all summer anyway because you saw it on Facebook. And Twitter. And Instagram. Could it be awkward? Yes. Could it be less fun? Maybe. Could it be the nicest possible gesture for someone who is missing his or her friends and feeling horrible about just about everyone? Yes, it would be. Maybe the new teacher won’t go, but he or she will know that this is a friendly building where people ask each other to lunch, and that just might make all the difference.

We are all in this teaching thing together. This fall, when you see a new face, make the effort. These things have a way of coming back to you twofold, so when you are in a new situation, hopefully a friendly face will find you too.