As we kick into gear of a new school year here in New Zealand, I often reflect back on what it was like starting off in those first couple of years of teaching. If there is one lesson, one piece of advice I would give to any Beginning Teacher to help them survive and ultimately thrive, it is this:
Get to know the people that really run the school. The receptionists, student services, grounds staff, the IT and other technicians, the Principal’s PA, the tea lady, Librarians etc.
These people are the oft-forgotten glue that hold a school together. If you can get onside with them, your job will become much, much easier.
Without these people doing their often thankless tasks, the jobs that some people just expect will happen, we could not perform our role in the classroom. The IT network in your school that you rely on for resources etc.; the channelling of students leaving or arriving at school for appointments or paying for trips; meeting and greeting visitors, parents, guests arriving at the school; setting up of timetables; ordering, processing and distributing classroom resources – these are all examples of things that teachers rely on day in and day out.
I would suggest it the non-teaching staff that are the real superheroes in schools. Performing great things in jobs that would be easyto completely overlook in a busy week. In fact, the times that many teachers notice these people are when something has gone wrong. Perhaps that suggests how often they are doing amazing things that the 1 time you notice is when that thing doesn’t occur.
Plenty of people will offer Beginning Teachers advice on pedagogy, professional development, behaviour management and organisation. I suggest that all of those things become a lot easier if you are friendly with the superhero forgotten staff in your school.
I can remember having major difficulties with a Year 10 student who had been wonderful in my class the year previous. Mentioning this in passing with one of our wonderful Student Services staff meant that I then learned things that were happening in this boy’s life that helped explain some things. The staff that are in the background of a school often know a lot about our students that gets hidden from the teachers. A quick conversation can often be a goldmine for helping your relationships with your students.
So, to all the non-teaching staff that I have had the privilege of working with, thank you for all that you do. Without your tireless efforts, our job in the classroom would be much, much harder. And to Beginning Teachers, make sure you get to know the non-teaching staff in your school – they will be critical to you surviving these first couple of years and getting to a point where you can feel you are thriving in your teaching.