It’s your first few days in a new school and in a new country and it’s a daunting experience. You’ve hardly had time to catch your breath and the jetlag is just about subsiding. You’re still settling into your new home, but the gas hasn’t been connected yet and you’ve almost gone through the whole menu from the local pizza takeaway. You are now more carb than human. You have a sim card but no Wi-Fi yet so it’s back to text messaging to let the folks at home know that you’re ok. You’ve managed a few words of the local lingo and you found the nearest watering hole, but the taxi driver took you to the other end of town because you mixed up the words for “right” and “left”. Your visa has been processed, but your passport is still at immigration and you’ve been told not to worry by the school’s HR officer, delays happen all the time. Oh, and there’s the small matter of planning classes for the students who are coming in next week…
Get to know the kids
This is universal and yes, every teacher knows-or should know- the importance of this. Any school that expects their new teachers to hit the ground running is kidding itself. Remember, that in the first few weeks, the students will be your greatest mentors and you will learn more from them than they will from you. They are a colossal fund of knowledge and they will fill you in on everything from local customs, to the language, to who really holds the balance of power in the school (Note: It’s usually either the janitor, the school nurse or the dinner lady). Taking time to get to know them should be your number one priority and this will also help you to fit in and get into your groove.
Connect with parents
They are as curious about you, as you are of them and its best to get ahead of things by offering some background on yourself. A quick welcome email explaining who you are, what you are interested in and where you have taught before will do wonders in preventing your being door stepped on the very first morning. It will also make for a very pleasant back to school evening. If you have some words of the local language, that is even better, and you will be surprised at how willing parents will be to help you transition in the country, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Remember the big picture
Yes, it is manic and not what you thought, but you chose to move to this country and take up this position for a reason. Don’t lose sight of that. There are a million little problems now that seem insurmountable, but they will seem trivial this time next year. The work/life balance may be skewed in the first few weeks, but that holiday is just around the corner so keep your eye on the prize. It will all be worth it when you are sipping that drink on a beach in Thailand or exploring the backstreets of a beautiful European city.
Good schools will understand that on-boarding and inducting new staff is a long-term process and extends well beyond that first half hour talk on local customs. It is important during this transition to take care of your own physical and mental well-being which means eating right, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. You may be tempted to burn the candle at both ends and accept every dinner and drinks invitation going, but it is also important to know when to say no. More importantly, don’t be afraid to speak up when you are not happy about something. Good schools will have channels for you to turn to and voice any concerns you have whether that is a buddy partner, your HR manager, your department head or another member of the leadership team. Lots of issues can be solved quickly once the right people know about them; the key is to make your voice heard and not suffer in silence.
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