A classic “Sesame Street” song asks, “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” If you’re a new teacher or just new to your building this year, you should be singing a similar tune about the people in your school. Developing a good working relationship with your colleagues will go a long way toward helping you have a successful year.
By now, you should have already had a face-to-face initial planning conference with your evaluator, the person who will be observing you in your classroom throughout the year. “Get to know your supervisor. Find out how she thinks and how she supports teachers,” advises Claudia Rerrie-Jenkins, a teacher at PS 9 in the Bronx.
If you are a first-year teacher, you should have been assigned a mentor who will meet with you one-on-one throughout the year for confidential discussions. Your assigned mentor should be an experienced colleague who may support you by doing demonstration lessons, co-teaching with you, offering suggestions about classroom management and helping you plan lessons. Your mentor is required to log at least 40 hours into the Department of Education mentoring system.
If you believe you’re eligible for a mentor but haven’t been assigned to one, you should speak with your school’s UFT chapter leader — another person you’ll want to get to know. Your chapter leader can inform you about your rights and keep you updated on important information.
If your school has coaches for literacy and math, you can seek them out for advice on curriculum implementation. Coaches can observe your teaching — in a nonevaluative setting — and suggest ways to improve.
In addition to your assigned mentor and your school’s coaches, your colleagues are invaluable resources for support. “New teachers should ask a strong teacher in their content area to visit them,” says Jamie Sackie, an English teacher at IS 52 in Inwood. “The most helpful thing an experienced colleague did for me was offer to visit my class and take notes. There was no judgment, just a detailed account of what I did and what the students were doing. I saw for myself the things I wanted to improve.”
Your supervisor may even be able to help you set aside time for classroom inter-visitation with other teachers. “Choose a veteran teacher who has a teaching style that you’d like to emulate,” suggests Rebecca Saintil, a special education teacher at Archer Elementary School in the Bronx.
Beyond the classroom, acquaint yourself with the staff members who keep the school running smoothly. “Always be nice to the secretaries; they are the ones who know everything!” says Catherine Schmidt, an English teacher at IS 181 in the Bronx.
“School safety officers get to know the parents and see the kids walking in happy, grumpy, sleepy, even sad or hungry,” says Anne Egelhoff Ritchie, a teacher at PS 37 on Staten Island.
“Get to know the custodian because then your room will always be cleaned,” notes Melissa Weiss Reardon, a teacher at PS 6 in the Bronx.
Last but not least, make an effort to meet the members of the School-Based Support Team, who provide special education and other support services to students. Even if you don’t have any students receiving services, they can help you with issues that may arise in your classroom.