New Teacher Starting at a New School? Here Are Some Tips You Cannot Miss!

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrations by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

The events in this article are based on actual occurrences. The names, locations and, in some instances, the genders of individuals have been changed to protect the individuals’ privacy. 

It can be daunting when you start at a new school, especially if you’re a fresh graduate. Friendship and social groups will already be in place, and you may be nervous about trying to fit in, especially since you’ll be working with your new colleagues so closely.

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Your first few weeks and months on the job will be a time when your new colleagues will be getting to know you for the first time too. They may also be a little nervous about approaching you for a conversation. 

Here is a video summary of this blog post:

The trick here is to try and make one friend at a time. You’re in no rush! Relax, be respectful and polite, and slowly people will warm to you and trust will be built. 

Don’t alienate people

People respond to new social environments in a variety of different ways. Some people are shy and reserved, whilst others are confident and chatty. 

In the teaching profession, I’ve noticed that a conservative ‘middle path’ – that of being slightly reserved whilst being happy to chat with new colleagues, is the best way to go.

In my book, I describe a real situation that a former colleague of mine found himself in. He was much too cocky and intense with his humour and talk in the first few weeks of his new school year, and he annoyed a lot of people. Here is his story. 

Greg was a new psychology teacher at a rapidly growing international school in Brunei. He had come from a school where staff members enjoyed a very close and communal atmosphere: where the men played on football and basketball teams together and the women often played netball, badminton and did aerobics classes. The school was managed well, and staff were encouraged to socialise and be friends with one another. Greg was sorry to leave, but the prospect of more money and a substantially better benefits package tempted him to move on.

Greg’s new school was very different to his previous one, but it took him a long time to figure that out. As soon as he started at the school, everyone knew who he was. He would greet everyone loudly and proudly, making jokes and aiming to get everyone laughing in the staff room. He had a lot of opinions about things, from religion to politics and even which teachers in his new school spoke the clearest English, even though he had only been working there for a few weeks. At staff gatherings, including casual chats in the staffroom, he was loud and boisterous and would irritate people with anecdotes and questions, even when they wanted to be left alone. He had an opinion about everything, and he thought that his new colleagues would love him for revealing all of his infallible wisdom and sharing his sense of humour with them. How wrong he was!

 

Chapter 7 - make too many friends at a time
Greg thought he was so cool!

Greg made the inconspicuous mistake of alienating his coworkers, to the point where they didn’t even want to be around him anymore. He tried to be friends with everyone all at once, and all he ended up doing was irritating people. One member of staff even went so far as to tell him, in front of everyone in the staffroom, “Greg, sometimes I don’t know if you’re joking or if you’re just a complete retard!” This was the statement that woke him up.

Greg eventually toned things down, but it took a while for other staff members to warm to him again. Greg tried to run before he could walk, aiming to make everyone his friend all at once. What he should have done instead is focussed on making one friend at a time by taking a sincere interest in his coworkers, and gradually getting to know them.

Avoid gossip

Gossip, in all of its forms, generates distrust and is highly destructive. It is also dangerously contagious, so you really must guard against contributing to it. This is with-ukedchatan important rule to follow at all times in your career, but especially when you’re a brand new teacher.

Building trust with your colleagues takes considerable time. One of the quickest ways that you can destroy trust before you’ve even built it is by gossiping. 

Again, I make reference to this in my book as I feel it’s such an important point to make. Unfortunately, however, too many teachers fall into the habit of gossiping at all levels of the profession. I include some advice about this in Chapter 7 – ‘Working With Colleagues’, which I’ve included below:

You and I could walk into any school staff room at morning break time and, after about five minutes, we could easily distinguish between the ‘Chatty Cathys’ and the ‘Reserved Richards’. Gossips love to espouse whatever is on their mind, even if nobody else wants to hear it. They’ll tell you one funny anecdote after another, ranging from which salon they went to last week to how difficult they find the new pupil assessment software the school’s made them use. There’s also one other thing that gossips are really good at, and that’s dishing out the dirt on anyone who happens to be the topic of the current conversation.

 

Chapter 7 - gossiping
Avoid gossip at all costs!

 

Gossips, without fail, are people to completely avoid at all costs (where possible). One of the reasons why gossips are famously passed over for promotion is because they can’t be trusted with the sensitive information they’d be exposed to in a managerial role. They generate distrust, and you should be very cautious with what you say when around anyone who is a famous gossip; you don’t want to give them fuel for a fire that they can burn behind your back! Additionally, if you happen to be sat with a gossip who starts to speak negatively about a colleague or the school in general, then don’t be afraid to get up and walk away. What’s more important: having a laugh or having a job? Besides, do you really want to be sat there when everyone’s complaining about the principal and that awkward moment happens when the Deputy Head walks in the staff room?

If you’re sat with gossips, or if you’re seen to be hanging around with them and chatting with them frequently, then you’ll be associated with them in the minds of senior management. If you plan on having a long and fruitful career in teaching, then remember this golden rule: don’t gossip, and don’t associate with gossips.

You never know who might be in earshot of your gossiping. You could be walking past an open window when a colleague hears you, or even standing on duty in the lunch queue when a number of students hear you too. Gossip is just simply too dangerous to get involved in. Avoid it, period!

Be careful at staff parties

Many schools around the world enjoy a congenial and lively atmosphere in which staff feel happy and trusted. Schools like this often have social gatherings, and in your first week you may be invited along to some kind of staff party or get-together.

Be careful about how you come across at staff parties. It can be easy to let loose too much, especially after a few drinks. If you feel yourself getting a bit tipsy, then don’t be afraid of calling it a night and going home. 

I’ve attended my fair share of staff get-togethers over the years and sometimes drunkenness can cause issues. New teachers seem to be particularly prone to this. 

Remember this: Staff parties are not for partying! Do that with your social group outside of school (and far away from school) if you must. 

Know your courses and plan properly

Lesson planning can be a particularly daunting task for new teachers, especially if this is your first year on the job. 

In my book, I write about the real story of a teacher who started a job in a new school with a new set of courses to teach. She found herself overwhelmed and making silly assumptions, which landed her a spot of trouble. Let’s find out what happened. 

Bethan, a young teacher with high aspirations, had just started her new job at an IB World School. It was a prestigious position, and expectations were high. She had taught ‘A’ – Level Geography in her previous school, but had not taught the IB Diploma before. When she started teaching her new Year 12 class, she already had a high workload and issues to deal with at home due to relocating to her new school. To save time, she taught subject content on the ‘A’ – level syllabus, assuming that it equated to what was in the IB Course Guide. Since she already had the necessary resources from her previous school, she could prepare lesson materials quickly and easily.

Was this a good move on her part? By using the resources from her old school was she really preparing her students for their IB exams? The answer to both of these questions, unfortunately, is no. She was teaching content that possessed some overlap with the IB course, but it was patchy. In parts, her material was either not specified in the IB Course Guide, or was too complex. After several lessons of finding the subject too difficult, a student decided to find the IB Course Guide online. When he couldn’t find the material he had been taught by Bethan in there, he informed his parents, and shortly afterwards they sent an e-mail to the Head of School: Mr Brian.

making plans
How well do you know the courses you will teach?

Mr Brian, being a principal with some experience of dealing with this sort of issue before, wanted to verify the facts. He arranged a meeting with Bethan and asked her to go through her semester plan for that class. When she couldn’t produce one, and when she couldn’t answer the questions pertaining to the IB curriculum she was supposed to be teaching, Mr Brian was not the least bit happy. As a result of this, Bethan was made to produce detailed long-term plans for all of her classes; she was asked to e-mail the concerned parent with an explanation and she was placed under a lesson observation schedule so that her line manager could monitor her teaching. Additionally, this had the knock-on effect of reducing the students’ confidence in her as their teacher. Sounds excessive? The principal didn’t think so, especially when one considers that the parents at this school were all fee-paying, and rightly expected a good quality of teaching. All of this pressure, extra-workload, and embarrassment could have been avoided had Bethan had simply read through the syllabus for her course and planned accordingly.

You would be surprised at how different some syllabuses can be, even when they pertain to the same examination. An Edexcel IGCSE Mathematics syllabus, for example, is significantly different to the CIE IGCSE Mathematics syllabus. Make sure that you know which syllabus you are teaching, and don’t assume that it is the same as what you’ve taught before. Also, watch out for syllabus updates – new syllabuses can be very different to their predecessors.

Summary: Tips for new teachers starting at new schools

  1. Focus on making one friend at a time. Don’t worry yourself with ‘fitting in’ or ‘being a part of the club’. Be polite, offer your opinions only when asked and be friendly. You’ll soon find that your new colleagues will warm up to you and will be happy to be friends with you.
  2. Don’t come over too intense or loud. Building professional relationships takes time.
  3. Avoid gossip at all costs. Avoid it as you would cobras, rattlesnakes and poisonous spiders. 
  4. Staff parties are a chance for you to socialize in a relaxed setting. Don’t forget that you’re in the company of your new colleagues and your bosses. 
  5. Plan properly and thoroughly. Don’t assume that different courses in the same subject follow the same content. 

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Seven Tips for Engaging Distracted Students

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrations by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

The events in this article are based on actual occurrences. The names and, in some instances, the genders of individuals have been changed to protect the individuals’ privacy. 

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone only to suspect that they were not listening? In a half-daydream, the other person hears you say “What do you think?”, to which they sheepishly reply “I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening”.

Here is a video summary of today’s article:

Today’s kids are more distracted than ever before, thanks, in large part, to technology. One only has to sit on a bus or a train to see swathes of people, young and old, consumed by a digital trance as they dance their fingertips across brightly-lit handheld screens.

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But technology, and dependence on technology, is not the only thing that causes kids to switch off.

Students may simply be bored with what’s going on in class or may find the subject matter dull. They may have things on their mind (such as missing their chat time on the latest app) or may even not be feeling good that day. They may have pressures at home that they are dealing with, or social problems at school that are causing anxiety.

with-ukedchat
“The perfect book for NQTs”

The first important point to make, in defense of all teachers, is that quality of teaching is only one factor that can cause students to switch off. I feel that this is often overlooked by school inspectors and some so-called ‘experts’ in the field. It’s impossible to solve or transmute all of the personal emotional problems of your students within the framework of a taught lesson. This is why good pastoral care, mentoring and counseling are such a vital part of a child’s care and education. 

In this article, we will focus on bringing students back from the abyss when they begin to drift. If, however, you’re looking for more strategic tips for behavior management, then this blog post of mine here will help. We will also touch upon some holistic strategies for dealing with problems beyond the parameters covered through direct teaching. 

Tip number 1: Find out what they’re interested in

Using the interests and hobbies of your students to inform your teaching can be a very powerful method of getting students to engage with the lesson content.

Let’s examine a real example of this technique in action. Here follows a short extract from my book:

Charlene was an experienced and well-liked teacher of secondary science. She got on very well with her students, and parents would often mention that they appreciated her ‘special attention’ to their children. She was liked by her colleagues, and she enjoyed her work. One day, her physics student came to school with a broken arm in a plaster cast. John, a keen gymnast, mentioned that he had fallen very hard in a training session two days ago. Charlene immediately knew that this was golden information for her lesson planning.

always learn

In John’s next physics lesson, Charlene was teaching the class about forces and motion. As John entered the class, she presented him with a starter activity revolving around the forces that act upon a gymnast when taking off and landing on a springboard. She also asked John how he was doing (and she was sincere in asking). He said he was healing well, and Ms. Charlene mentioned that “We can use your experience to help the class today, would that be okay?” John said sure.

After completing and peer assessing the starter worksheet, Ms. Charlene asked John to tell the class what had happened to his arm. He gladly told his story, and Ms. Charlene asked for everyone to clap after he had finished. Using humor and good teaching practice, she said, “So using John’s story to help you, what do you think one of today’s objectives could be?”

One student mentioned a funny comment about how you should always land on your feet and not on your arm like John did, which Ms. Charlene responded to with a smile and a giggle. After this, and with some prompting from their teacher, some students spoke about the importance of gravity in determining the force upon impact, and the speed of free fall. At the end of a very interesting and varied lesson, Charlene allowed her students the opportunity to sign John’s plaster cast, if they hadn’t done so already.

Let’s examine what Charlene did that made this lesson (and her rapport/relationship with students) so special:

  • used the hobby of her student to generate a lesson activity (the starter worksheet)
  • showed a sincere care and concern for her student
  • was genuinely interested in the whole life of her student (as she was with all of her students)
  • used student ‘expertise’ to enhance the lesson content (she asks John to talk to the class about what had happened)
  • was tasteful in her humor, and made sure that John is happy to share his story before she asks him to do so.
  • rewarded the class for their good work by allowing them a few minutes at the end to sign John’s plaster cast; not only did this subtly reveal her caring and ‘human’ nature, but it also bonded the class together as a whole

Being interested in the holistic attributes of our students can do wonders in terms of rapport, which can help a lot when engaging students. I often refer to the goals and dreams of my kids to get them focussed. “John, you must learn about this if you want to be an engineer. All engineers must be good at using mathematics”

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Even a short conversation in the lunch queue can work wonders in terms of rapport building. “What are you guys having for lunch today?”. “How’s everything going?”. “How did last night’s football match go? I heard that you were playing against Grange Hill”

Remember the info you extract from these conversations, and use it to compound your rapport with your students. Refer to it when needed for motivational purposes “Miss Claire tells me that you produce beautiful homework in History class, so I know that you have the ability to produce great work. I know you can do this!”

be enthusiastic

Whilst this is a long-term technique that takes time to produce significant results, it is one of the most powerful. Students tend to be more focused in class when they like their teachers, and rapport-building is the key to getting students on your side.

Tip number 2: Ask the students to help out with something

Ask disengaged students to help you with something, even if it’s small. I’ve used this consistently with some of the most notorious students of the moment, and it works like a treat.

My most memorable, and most celebrated example, is that of a boy called Billy.

I’d just started working at a high school in northern England. I was taking over a class from a teacher who had left the school. That teacher left me some handover notes, in which she had said ‘Do not confront Billy under any circumstances”

I asked my HoD to elaborate, and he repeated the message. This was before I had even met the class, so naturally, I was a little nervous!

My first lesson with this class started normally. The students were seated and attentive. Then, a kid walked in late – it was Billy. He walked in, and said “Hello”. Since I’d been warned about him, I responded with a friendly “Come on in young man. Take a seat. Nice to meet you.”

There was a giggle from some of the students in class. They expected me to shout at him. But I knew better. I knew that I had to build up a good rapport with this student in order to be effective and use sanctions later on if necessary.

Billy then took out a can of cola and began drinking it in class. A big no-no in the Science lab.

I set the kids some work to do, and I walked over to have a conversation with Billy.

As I approached Billy’s desk, I noticed that he had a beautiful display case of felt-tipped pens in front of him. I said to him “Wow! You’re so well-prepared. I wish that all of my students were as organized as you”

He was stunned!

2 stars and a wish

This was a kid who was on detention daily, getting into arguments with virtually all of his teachers. Now he was being recognized for something of value that he had. The effect was utterly transformational.

“Err, well yeah, I always like to be ready for my lessons”

We had a nice conversation in which he told me that he wanted to be a tattoo designer. I then drew his attention to the artistic design of the cola can, and reminded him that he could not drink it in here. He smiled. 

After allowing him a few minutes to drink it outside, he came back in. I gave him the unofficial job title of Class Presentation Chief, and his job was to walk around the class on occasion and check the presentation of people’s work. I’d also ask him to help out in class demos.

The effect was transformational – he loved the responsibility, and he loved the sincere praise and encouragement he was getting. He was like an angel in my classes, to the point where staff room conversations about this kid were abruptly stifled when someone would ask me ‘How’s Billy doing in Science”, and I would say “He’s great”. 

At the end of that academic year, I saw Billy on GCSE results day. He’d achieved a grade C in Science – his highest score out of all of this subjects. He was chuffed.

High five

Giving students tasks to do, whether on a long or short-term basis, can really have a massive effect on their sense of empowerment and importance, which can lead to extra motivation and a determination never before seen. 

Tip  number 3: Use body language and keys
Where possible, it is always best to stop low-level distraction in its infancy, before it manifests itself into something bigger. One of the best ways to do this is to use subtle, low-key expressions using your physiology. Some examples include:

  1. The ‘look’: When I hear low-level chatter or disruption, I often pause mid-sentence (or I pause the video or slideshow if that’s the media I’m using at the time), and I simply look at the student in a way that says “We’re all waiting for you to be quiet”. This immediately draws the attention of all of the students, and it can have quite a large impact. I often accompany ‘the look’ with a half-grin, so as to not appear too aggressive or antagonistic. I also accompany this by opening my arms as if to say “Come on, you know that’s wrong”.
  2. Maintaining proximity: Being in close proximity to the disruptive student can be a very effective, non-invasive way to keep him or her on-task. I may also tap on the student’s desk and point to their work, to remind them that they need to stay focused.
  3. Stimulus actions: These are particularly helpful when there is a lot of whole class disruption, but you may need to give the kids a little bit of training beforehand. In the past I have used the following:

Clapping twice, after which the students all clap three times (this is a ritual they have memorized)
Singing “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” and all the students clap

Raising my hand, after which all of the students copy by raising their hands
These low-key, non-intrusive behavior management techniques are highly effective at stopping distraction before it manifests into a confrontation. This works particularly well if it’s done in a light-hearted, happy way.

Tip number 4: Move the students to the ‘action center’

Basically, if kids are persistently distracted, then move them.

You may wish to set up some kind of seating plan (seating disruptive kids with a cluster of more focused students can sometimes help). You may even wish to bring distracted students to the front of the class, where possible.

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If two or more kids are chatting persistently, then it’s a good idea to split them up before dishing out any kind of sanction (e.g. a detention). It’s useful if this kind of rule is imposed since day one (Consistent chatter and you’ll be moved), otherwise, you may end up with a confrontation on your hands.

Tip number 5: Praise and encourage your students regularly

Praise is powerful if it’s used properly. Here are some tips:

Here are some tips:

  • Praise only works if it is sincere. Flattery loses its effect over time. Always find something genuine and meaningful to celebrate.
  • Use a variety of methods to praise and encourage your students. Comments written on their work, verbal praise in the classroom, multimedia-based praise (e.g. comments on blogs, stars on student-generated websites, ‘stickers’ in learning management system (LMS) forums, etc.) and informal chats outside of the classroom are all great ways to make your students feel appreciated and important.
  • If a student produces a really good piece of work, make sure you show it to the class as a good example to follow. This will make the student feel extra special and will encourage both the student and the rest of the class to work even harder. If your school has an LMS, a novel way to do this would be to scan the work and post it on your subject page. If not, simply projecting the work onto your interactive whiteboard or just holding it up in front of the class will have an uplifting effect on that student.
  • When you do have to reprimand or correct your students, make sure you praise them for something first. Every human being, no matter who they are, receives criticism much better if their inhibitions are overcome with praise first. A good rule is the “two stars and a wish rule”, where you praise two things that went well, and you suggest a target to make this work ‘even better.’

Tip number 6: Play games with your students and get them competing with each other

Friday afternoon of the 2013/14 academic year was a challenge for me at first. I had double Year 9 Science, and many of the kids were exhausted after running around like crazy on the school field at lunchtime.

However, things soon changed.

I used Friday afternoons as a competition and review time, where my kids would play learning games to earn House Points. It worked like a treat, with the students loving each lesson and going home for the weekend on a high.

Try playing these games with your kids:

#1: Splat

This quick game is so easy: all you need is a whiteboard, whiteboard markers and class of kids. It’s a great game for consolidating key vocabulary, and is perfect for E.A.L. learners.

Splat

Here’s a short video showing a quick clip of me playing ‘Splat’ with my students (I will include some more lengthy clips soon, but this is a good start):

 

#2 Mystery Word

Another easy game. This time, students randomly pick out written words from a hat (or cup, beaker, container, etc.), and then they have to explain their word to the class (without saying the word). The students who are listening have to guess what the word is.

Mystery word

#3 The Poster Game

Possibly the most fun and competitive game I’ve ever invented for teaching new content. You’ll need space for the kids to walk/run, and the game does take some prep. However, once you (and your students) become used to playing this game you’ll find that it’s a doddle to set up in no time at all.

Poster game page 1poster game page 2Poster game page 3

#4 Who am I?

A very simple game. All you need are post-it notes and a class full of energized students! Great fun. Perfect for reinforcing key vocabulary and concepts.

Who am I

# 5 Bingo

Got some equation symbols or mathematical problems to teach your kids? Perhaps the symbols of the periodic table is more your thing? Whatever it is, this simple game can be adapted to suit any subject.

Bingo

# 6 Vocabulary Musical Chairs

You’ll need a good rapport with your kids to use this one, as it needs to be controlled really well by the teacher (e.g. to avoid kids bumping into each other). However, it is simple, fun and worth the effort!

Vocabulary musical chair

# 7 Mystery Picture

This one takes some imagination on the part of the teacher and some training of the kids beforehand. However, it’s really, really good for encouraging higher order thinking skills.

Mystery pictures

Tip number 7: Have a one-to-one conversation

One of the key mistakes I made in my first few years of teaching was that I would sanction my students too quickly, citing whatever system was in place as my justification. This sometimes led to a confrontation, and a lot of extra work on my part (e.g. supervising detentions).

Sometimes students can get really ‘stuck in a rut’ with their behavior and lack of focus, often going on ‘auto-pilot’ for no apparent reason.

Giving feedback

Sit down with students like this and have a one-to-one conservation. Listen to them. Find out what their ambitions in life are, and reassure them that you are there to help them to succeed.

Refer any important information to a pastoral leader or school counselor if necessary (e.g. if a student is in danger). This website acts a good guide for gauging when this kind of referral may be needed, but always check with your school’s leadership first.

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