I joined the staff at Hale Kula Elementary School in August of 1990. Back then, I was a new teacher with only one semester of work under my belt. I interviewed for any position at the school because, I as a probationary teacher, I had been displaced from my first assignment (reading resource teacher at Helemano Elementary School).
Back then, we probationary teachers were advised to take any position offered. Jobs were scarce and turning down an offer would spread like wildfire through the district, making principals very wary of you.
So, I took on the position as computer resource teacher which was offered to me because, as the principal noted, under “Interests” on my resumé, I included working on my Macintosh.
I’m sure I’ve told this story before — after seeing the “computer lab” full of Apple IIes, no printers, and five and a quarter-inch floppy disks scattered around the storage room of the library I accepted the offer and then drove home as fast as I could to cry!
I didn’t go back to Hale Kula until that day in August when teachers are supposed to report to work. At that first faculty meeting I was introduced and welcomed with a plant and a mug. My “grade level” was the resource team of the music teacher, speech therapist, PE teacher, and gifted and talented teacher. They seemed to be happy group, but once we could go back to our rooms to set up for the new year, they were gone.
I look back now and understand completely. It’s not as if teachers are not friendly or welcoming. It’s just that life in a classroom is very isolating. You come into work and head straight to your classroom to get lessons and materials ready for the day. So unlike television portrayals of sitting around a teacher’s lounge enjoying coffee before the bell rings.
It’s more likely you’re jockeying in line to use the copier or rolling out the mobile lab or letting those few students into the class early because they haven’t had breakfast and you keep bread and peanut butter in your room for those “just in case” instances.There is really no recess or lunch break because there is either yard duty, students who need to stay in for recess, or the reward for students to eat lunch in the room with you because they met their reading goal or demonstrated kindness in the classroom.
Teachers will forget that new staff members don’t know where all the copiers are on campus or how to pay for lunch as an adult or even where the invaluable soda machine is housed. They forget to mention to you where the huge rolls of paper are kept so you can cover your bulletin boards, or where the die cut machine is, or where the lamination machine can be found. You have to ask, poke around, discover on your own. Then, you’ll have to remember to ask what the “rules” are for using those things. Can I turn on the lamination machine and then leave while it warms up? Is there a sign so people know I’m up first when it gets heated up? Are grade levels responsible for their own rolls of laminating film or is it a free-for-all to the entire faculty?
Beyond the resources available to a new teacher are the co-workers who become friends on campus. No one tells you outright, but you should know that the office staff are extremely important if you want to get anything done. Befriend these fine folks! Find out your custodian and room cleaners names and talk to them. You’ll need them sooner than later for moving, storing, or snagging extra desks or better chairs! Say hello and introduce yourself outside of your grade level. As a resource teacher, I had to work with everyone on the campus so I knew who they were, and what grade level they taught. When I started teaching sixth grade here at Kalei’opu’u Elementary, no one thought it was necessary to introduce me to other teachers on other grades and even after 10+ years here, some of my own grade level members didn’t know other teachers on staff.
Today, as I carry around my 1990 gift from position to position, I’m reminded of how shy and isolated I felt as a beginning teacher and I’m determined not to let that happen again. Instead, I say hello to everyone on campus and then duck into my office to check out our staff photo sheet to memorize their name to use the next time I see them. I also, ask, ask, ask, and ask again for help, guidance, and direction. Then I say thank you! I also give people the benefit of the doubt and have mutual respect for the way they do things. They probably are not smiling because they had a bad day because half the students didn’t finish the homework or a parent called and yelled at them or something from their own home is happening. It’s totally not because of me. After all, I got a welcome lei and gift when I first got here too!