Professional Development Opinion

Adjusting to My New School Culture

By Starr Sackstein — September 11, 2016 3 min read
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Being the new person on the block isn’t easy, especially when you came from a place of high seniority and developed a reputation you are proud of.

Much like seniors in a high school who were the big fish in a small pond, going off to college, starting my new position this fall was a little daunting.

Aside from the anxiety filled days and nights that led up to the start of my journey, I entered a new space last week knowing fewer than five people in a staff of over 150.

My old school had only about 50 staff total with less than 700 students in grades 6-12. I learned fast that my new school had almost that amount in just the eleventh grade.

Sitting in the auditorium as the principal kicked off the year positively, I listened eagerly, looking for kernals of information that would better inform how I am to move forward.

There has been a lot to learn to so far. Aside from the names of my colleagues with whom I’m eager to work, administrators, students and support staff who will no doubt be helpful in my development as a teacher center coach at the school.

The first week has not been without bumps. There has been some drama that isn’t worth getting into but not knowing the politics before I walked in certainly put me in a challenging space. Openly, I worked to listen to whomever wanted to share with me, not responding until I had more information.

Many stories emerged and frankly, I wasn’t interested in getting involved in anything that existed before that could taint the possibilities of the future. But it’s hard to walk the line.

Aside from trying to figure out my place with my colleagues, I needed to meet my students.

Initially I was told I’d only teach one class, but now I’m teaching three. Zero period I’ll be working with a group of students who need credit to graduate and I’m exciting about the possibilities. First period is a dual language class of the loveliest 12 freshmen. I co-teach this class with an amazingly knowledgeable and well-respected woman who also helps to run my small learning community. She has been amazing to work with so far and I can tell that the collaboration will really help our students.

My third and final class is reminiscent of my time at my first school. 34 students who tested me. I’m new to the building. They know each other but they don’t know me. I had forgotten how hard it is to walk into a room a stranger without the stellar reputation that makes kids ready to learn immediately.

So that first class didn’t go as I wanted it to.

It’s okay though, I was able to learn from what didn’t work. Day two was different. I made adjustments based on what I learned from them and it went much more smoothly. One thing that has changed significantly is me and the amount that I know now versus what I knew when I stood in my first school. If something doesn’t work, I don’t have to keep doing it AND more importantly, I have tools that I can use to change the way things look and feel.

By the end of my first week, I know some names. I’ve met my kids. I’ve made parent phone calls to make sure students who haven’t shown up yet know where to meet this upcoming week and I’m exhausted but exhilerated.

This week, I’m ready to have a meet and greet in the Teacher Center where I can personally introduce myself to my new colleagues, rewelcome them to the space and invite their thoughts and suggestions to make this year even better. I was reminded that my colleagues don’t know much about me and it is important for them to know who I am so they trust me moving forward. I’m eager to get that started.

Aside from everything that is new, I’m really grateful to the few colleagues who have gone out of their way to really make me feel at home, answering my millions of questions and coming to my rescue when I have that “deer in headlights” kind of look on my face. What an exciting new adventure! I’m keeping my mind open.

For those of you starting new jobs or welcoming new people into your job, what advice can you share?

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.