I have had a nontraditional career so far as an educator: It all began in college. I started off as an art major, but as the first semester was coming to an end I began thinking about my financial responsibilities after graduation… which led to me to the drawing board for another degree. Next, I settled on becoming a nurse, that was, until I had my first class and passed out from the sight of blood. This time my college advisor made me really think about what I wanted to do with my life. The funny thing about that was that I was a single mother and had no idea what I was going to do when I got home, let alone, what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
After looking through several course catalogs I finally settled on being an elementary teacher. I would love to say I got into teaching because I wanted to change lives and I loved children so much. But if I am being honest, I wanted to have the same schedule as my son and make a livable wage.
Fast forward to my senior year in college. Fall semester I was placed in a 4th grade classroom to observe and teach 3 lessons. This wasn’t too bad, I actually liked them this age of students. The Spring semester of my senior year I was placed in a kindergarten classroom. This was a time when I should be rejoicing about my upcoming graduation, and yet, I found myself in full blown panic mode. I did not like kindergartners and had decided I had a made a huge mistake! I could not teach elementary, but I felt it was too late to change my major now. In tears I went to my advisor and we looked through my transcript. Apparently, I had taken enough math classes as electives that I had a math minor. This meant I could get my teaching license and teach secondary math. The day was saved!
Instead of doing the traditional MAT program that the UofA-Fayetteville offered, I did a distance MAT program through UofA-Monticello. This program allowed me to have a job as a teacher in place of an internship. I needed this option as I was a single mother and needed to start making money immediately. Problem was, my undergraduate was early childhood education and I had only been in the classroom setting as “a teacher” for a total of 6 hours (not even 6 consecutive hours). I had not been in a secondary classroom besides 4 years prior when I was the high school student.
I was fortunate enough to find a school that took a risk with me and I am so thankful they did. I began my career in a junior high that housed 8th and 9th graders. As much as I loved my first job, I decided I should experience more grade levels to find my perfect fit. I am currently in my 8th year of teaching and I have been in 6 different buildings and 3 different districts.
Some people may see that and say that I just move around, but the reality is I was learning from each job. I was finding my purpose and pursuing it. I chose the degree so that I would have the same schedule as my children, but now I am passionate about education on a whole new level. My long term goals are to get my doctoral degree in educational policy writing and to work in DC. Each one of the buildings I have been in have given me a new perspective and an appreciation for the different ways to approach education. But, it also meant I have been “the new kid” 6 times so far in my career.
I have come to realize that my coworkers are not simply going to listen to me or seek my advice because I have taught for 8 years or the title I am given with my new job. They know nothing about me, so why should they? This year is the first time I have been out of the classroom. My first 7 years I was a math teacher and for the last 3 of those 7 years I was an ESL Caseload Manager as well. This year I am an ESL Coordinator for 2 buildings and my role is to collaborate with teachers to help our growing ESL population flourish in the general education classrooms.
So here I am, brand new district, brand new school, and brand new position. I started to think about the ways to gain my coworkers trust as a new person in the building and what I have learned so far this year about that process.
I feel like I hear this word a lot in education; relationships. Relationships with students, relationships with coworkers, relationships with parents, relationships with the community… you get my point. It is all about relationships. But practically, what does that mean?
- Present- It is amazing how much being of an impact it makes just being visible at meetings, in between classes, during lunch… It can be so easy with this workload to recluse to your classroom and never get out. Building a relationship takes work, and you have to be present to put that work in.
- Reliable- In my specific role I cannot tell you how many times I get stopped in the hallway and asked about some time of paperwork, a student, an email… and if I tell a teacher that I will look into, but forget and never do, I have damaged that relationship. My way of keeping my self organized is to always have my phone with me so that when I am stopped in the hallways or I need to follow up on something I make a Google Calendar notification. I have quickly learned that if it is not in my calendar, it is probably not going to happen. Another person in the district that is in a similar role as me says she carries around a notepad with her at all times. That way if she is stopped she can jot down a quick note. So my advice is to find whatever way that works best of your to be reliable.
- Kind- This may seem elementary, but can go the furthest out of anything else. Education is not for the faint of heart. There are days that the students are awful, parents are mean, or administration has to have a tough conversation with you. We all need that one person that keeps you going. Maybe you do not have to say anything, but just by offering a quick smile to remind others that we are all in this together can help a person keep going. Be the person that is always positive and making the most out of life, that positivity will be contagious and people will remember you.
Educators are called to be life long learners. One of the best parts about having a mixed level of tenure in your staff is that everyone can learn from everyone. The teachers fresh out of college may have new strategies or different types of technology to bring to the table. The veteran teachers have years of wisdom of how to handle those situations that are not taught in a college classroom. Both sides of the spectrum are valuable and should be respected.
What you need to be careful with is that no one is expected to be an expert in all areas. No matter where you are in your career. It is okay to admit that you do not know, but that you will look into it. True collaboration and trust among coworkers with allow everyone to learn from one another with the focus always being on what is best for the students.
Lastly, you must be trustworthy. I have already touched on this with the reliability aspect when you say you will do something, then do it. Trustworthy also means that people can rely on you to do what you are supposed to do when know one is watching (aka, integrity). Students and teachers talk. If you are lacking in any area it will not go unnoticed. It may for a while, but know that it will catch up to you.
Being trustworthy means keeping student information confidential. I think back on buildings where I have worked that at any given moment you could walk into the teacher lounge and hear teachers talking about students, gossiping really. This breaks down the trust among teachers. Even if a teacher is not participating in the conversations everyone knows who “talks” in the workroom. As a teacher, I never trusted those teachers with anything. I kept any issues I was having to myself. I wanted to show my students the respect they deserved by not talking about them in a negative way if possible. There are times when it is necessary to have tough conversations about students, but with a limited audience.
Be the teacher that can be trusted with any information and trusted to always do your work to the best of your ability. Couple this with being knowledgeable, humble, and building positive relationships will help you being a motivator in your school even as a newbie.