Tags: Assistant Head | CPD Coordinator | Deputy Head | Headteacher | New Job | School Business Manager/Bursar | School Leadership & Management | Staff Recruitment | Staff support

In the second of two articles exploring what helps new teachers feel welcome in a school, teacher Colin Smith looks at how social relations and the delivery of lessons impact on their experience.

In the first article, we drew on our data gathered as teacher-researchers in a TLRP project looking at the early professional learning of NTs in relation to their navigating the school building, its environs, its systems and its policies. In this article, we look at another two areas. The navigating by NTs of:

  1. Social relations (formal and informal) in the school.
  2. The delivery of lessons.

Navigating social relations

One clear message is that the more quickly the authority and school act the better.

I was still on my third placement [as a student teacher] when I found out what school I was at. I thought they were really well organised with that, so whatever they are doing there they need to keep doing it.’ (Haddon)

And prompt action by the school can get social relations off to a good start.

‘… it was good and certainly I mean the PT from my department was phoning me you know minutes, practically minutes, after I had opened the letter telling me I was coming here. So they were really on the ball.’ (William)

Here is another example where the authority and school worked together.

‘… I think I spoke to Mary Chalmers first of all who’s our coordinator for Morningside [council] and she was very positive about it, like, “Oh I’m sending you to a great place and you are going to love it.” …and then she straight away… suggested I call him and I actually spoke to Darren and he arranged for me to come through… and I came into visit and sort of set out what was going to happen next.’ (Lizzie)

Getting the welcome right

The welcoming process can be patchy.

I have worked in retail and I have had jobs where I was the first point of contact with people… but I just didn’t feel welcomed by certain people in this school.’ (Katrina)

Katrina gives an example.

I had this form class and the amount of people who have come into my class and spoken to the kids and gone back out again and I have had to say, “Excuse me, Nicole, who was that man?”’ (Katrina)

One reason for this apparent rudeness may be that even established teachers are a little shy of new faces.

‘… there seems to be an issue a bit in schools where once people know you they will talk to you but when you are new they don’t talk to you.’ (Aaron)

However, there may be issues of status involved in Katrina’s example that we will return to below. Meanwhile, shyness of both existing staff and NTs, along with the next issue, may need some proactive steps to promote feeling welcomed. In the first article, we discussed how the benefits of a school tour could be lost and a ‘refresher’ required. A similar issue arises here.

‘… Jamie took us round, before the holidays… and introduced us to all the senior management team, guidance staff, principal teachers of every department and that was before the holidays, so, I don’t know, you are meeting so many new faces.’ (Gordon)

Maureen did that when I came back, she walked me down and she told me loads and loads of people and when we got to the end she said, “Who can you remember?” and Brian the janitor was the only name that stood out and that was the first person I had met.’ (Beatrice).

One way round both staff reticence and ‘the sea of faces’ might be to organise occasions, perhaps over the first few months, when new teachers and different groups of staff can meet, say for a cup of coffee, and get to know each other a little better.

Some schools, through the approachability of their staff, seem to be able to open up formal pathways.

I find that with the heads and the deputies that they always [say] when they pass you or whatever, “How are you doing? How are things going?” And I feel that although with some heads and deputies you just say, “Oh fine, yes,”… they are very approachable and you could say something along the lines of, “Well can I speak to you about something…”’ (Haddon)

As they did when talking about systems and policies, NTs here emphasised how they appreciated the freedom to ask what might seem to be trivial questions of staff at various levels.

A question of status?

However, status was an issue for many NTs. In the current Scottish induction scheme, with its extra support and reduced timetable for NTs, they are marked as something different. One PT seems to have anticipated this.

‘… he said, “This is the last time that I will refer to you as ‘probationers’. In my department, you are just teachers, the same as everybody else.” And he never has, he never says the word “probationer”.’ (Wendy)

However, for others their status of not being permanent members of staff is to the fore. Did the visitors to Katrina’s form class think that she was not worth acknowledging? In the following example, two NTs (Gavin and Katie) in the same department were victims of historical circumstances that affected both their social relations and their delivery of lessons.

One thing that we constantly get reminded of is, “remember we have got to take your classes over again next year” because they had a bad experience of a probationer last year… so we want you to teach them the way we want rather than you teaching in your teaching styles.’ (Gavin)

This led to them feeling uncomfortable in the department, as will be described later. However, one other issue needs to be highlighted: one that headteachers may have little control over – the number of NTs in the school or departments. NTs talked frequently of the support they got from each other and in finding that they had similar kinds of problems. A single NT does not have that luxury. Some also talked of the support they got from last year’s NTs or from others within their own age group. However, such informal support groups did not always form naturally and may need to be encouraged.

Navigating the delivery of lessons

Gavin and Katie came from college with merits for teaching and felt that they had learned something about a particular style of teaching.

‘… an atmospheric classroom with discussion and things like that but in here they want us to teach the kids to work in silence on their own, no discussion. We are scared when the PT walks in, just in case it is too noisy.’ (Gavin)

Both were keen to emphasise that they did not have a ‘know-it-all’ mentality.

‘… even though you get a merit, you are still told the things that you can do better, there is a big difference between being told, here is what you are good at and here is what you need to do better, than just being told you need to do everything better…’ (Katie)

A new teacher from another department in the same school evidences that this was a departmental rather than a whole-school approach to NTs, indicating that the problem lay with one particular teacher and that elsewhere in the school they had only met with ‘total encouragement’.

Other NTs seem to have a degree of freedom and, sometimes at least, learn their own lessons about how to handle particular classes.

‘… instead of standing there, talking the way that I probably should as a teacher, I will be more slangy with them because that is what they understand and I will be, not their friend, but I will be more friendly with them than what I probably should be… I call one of the boys, I say, “Come on Shauny Shaun,” and it is like, nobody calls me that, just you. You know, he appreciates that, but I would never do that with any other class. But that is what they need… I started thinking… I need to respond to you the way that you need me to… and that has worked…’ (Kerry)

Although it appears to be working in this case, situations such as this might need careful monitoring to avoid some NTs stepping beyond professional relationships. Against this, NTs may bring skills that should be encouraged. Finding the balance is the issue.

The right resources

Two major themes occurred around the delivery of lessons. Firstly, many NTs emphasised the value of having their own room that they could organise as they wished. Apart from suiting their own teaching styles, this helped tremendously in establishing authority, as it signalled to pupils that they were ‘real teachers.’ Where this was not possible, NTs talked of the difficulties in moving rooms period-by-period, carrying resources, ensuring any required technology was in place and sometimes just gaining access to the room. This often added unnecessarily to discipline problems and/or difficulties in delivering their lessons as planned.

Secondly, some schools or departments did not seem to be efficient in pointing out the available resources or allowing NTs advance access to them. Again, there were many comments on how this constrained the quality of lessons they delivered. It should also be noted that many NTs felt that they had made significant contributions to available resources by updating or extending them.

In summary

Given the issues that arise from the above examples in helping NTs to navigate social relations and the delivery of lessons, it is clear that headteachers need to address the following:

  • How to ensure that the authority acts quickly and positively in allocating NTs to your school.
  • How to ensure that an appropriate member of staff follows this up immediately by welcoming the NTs and inviting them for a visit.
  • How to ensure that certain staff members do not undermine (even unintentionally) the positive effects of the above by appearing unwelcoming or rude.
  • How to organise existing and new staff coming together, getting to know each other, and overcoming shyness or reticence.
  • How to ensure that key staff members, eg heads and other managers, come across as approachable so that informal contacts can lead to formal discussions where necessary.
  • How to ensure that NTs feel that their status as teachers is recognised while providing them with the support they may need?
  • How to encourage informal support groups between NTs, and/or NTs and recent NTs, and/or age groups.
  • How to make sure that NTs are not victims of historical circumstances in particular departments.
  • How to ensure the school achieves the balance between allowing NTs to use their own (perhaps new or unique) skills and personalities to relate to the pupils while not stepping beyond professional relationships.
  • How to minimise the problems of moving from room to room if NTs can’t have their own room.
  • How to ensure that NTs have easy and prompt access to available resources and recognition for the contributions they make to improving or extending those resources.

This article was written with contributions from Kitt Curwen, David Dodds, Lesley Easton, Phil Swierczek, and Lesley Walker.

This article first appeared in Secondary Headship – Dec 2006

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