My wife is also a TEFL teacher. When she started teaching she was only twenty three, she’d just finished her TEFL course and had only been in Vietnam for a few weeks. Her first day at her new center she was extremely nervous about her first day of classes. She’d spent countless hours preparing the lessons and doing all that she could to be ready. What she hadn’t anticipated was animosity in the teachers’ room.
“Hey you. Yeah, you,” an older teacher about twice her size yelled as he entered the room.
My wife had just sat down a few minutes earlier and was doing some last minute checks on her lesson plan. “That’s my chair,” the teacher said standing with his backpack waiting for her to move.
She later found out that it wasn’t his chair; it’s just where he often sat. However, that day she did move, andÂ was uncomfortable that she might be doing something else to upset her fellow teachers. It took her a month before she found her place in the teachers’ room at this large center and began to feel comfortable.
Whether somebody has just started TEFL or has changed locations, fellow teachers are one of the best resources available. They know how the school works, are connected toÂ the country, have a friend network and know loads of activities to use in the classroom. However, finding one’s place within the teachers’ room and joining the school culture can often be a tricky thing. Read on for advice on how to integrate into the teachers’ room.
Or, if you want some 5 tips on improving the atmosphere in your teachers’ room. Click on the resource below.
Be Grateful for Their Help
Unless they are a manager, it isn’t your fellow teachers’ job to help you. They are in the teachers’ room because they need to get ready for a class, are on a short break or feel like talking about something other than teaching. This isn’t to say that other teachers won’t help you. I’d say that at least half of my go to games and activities have come from conversations in the teachers’ room.
The key is to acknowledge that they are being nice by helping you out. Try to be specific when you are asking questions and thank them for their help. Being specific turns it into a valuable conversation in the teachers’ room and less of a crisis.
New teacher: Oh God, I don’t know what to do!
Experienced teacher: What’s wrong?
NT: I can’t plan for this class.
ET: What are you teaching?
NT: I don’t know, something about cooking.
ET: What age group?
NT: Kids, at least they seem pretty young.
ET: Can I look at the book?
NT: Hold on, I’m not sure what book they are on.
New teacher: Do you have any good games for cooking vocab and directions?
Experienced teacher: What level?
NT: They’re six and seven year olds. They’ve been studying for about a year.
ET: Ok, they’re probably ready for a cooking show roleplay.
A different Experienced teacher: Yeah, I did something like that a few weeks ago. Here’s what we did:
Do you see the difference? You might find it rather difficult to find someone to mentor you through becoming a teacher, that should have happened already or be the responsibility of management. However, talking about teaching ideas, games and activities is useful for everyone. No matter how long they’ve been teaching, everyone had to start somewhere. Try to remember this when a new teacher comes to you for help after you’ve been at the school for a year or so.
Respect the Rules
There’s nothing more annoying than going into the teachers’ room to prep for your classes and finding that the flashcards that you need are missing, the book is not on the shelf orÂ the materials you need have been left in a different teacher’s room. I know the temptation; after you’ve just finished a tough day of teaching, the last thing you probably feel like doing is sorting through all of your flashcards and putting everything away. That said, a teachers’ room only works if everyone does their part to follow the rules. Your mother isn’t there and I highly doubt that there is someone whose role it is at the school to pick up after you.
A pretty affective way to make enemies in the teachers’ room is by not respecting the systems in place and the rules. If your school gives you a lack of training in this regard I urge you to ask your line manager about these things and use your best judgment. Pretend that you are visiting a girlfriend or boyfriend’s parents. Would you just take whatever you wanted out of their cupboards and leave them all over the house? Would you assume that the singular donut in the fridge is fair game, would you blast your music loudly, would you leave trash behind?
Stand Your Ground
Of course, not every issue in the teachers’ room will be of your own making. Like any workplace, TEFL teachers’ rooms mayÂ contain people behaving inappropriately or even taking advantage of a new teacher’s inexperience. I remember watching one teacher in Korea try to tell a new employee that she had to cover for him on Saturday morning; that it was policy. I quickly interrupted and let her know this was not the case.
Moving to a new country, workplace orÂ profession is stressful enough without having to worry about inappropriate behavior from people who should be on your side. If you feel that a teacher is trying to take advantage of you or doing something that doesn’t make you feel comfortable, I encourage you to let them know how you feel about this and, depending on the situation, raise the issue to your line manager.
Here’s an example of something that happened while I was managing a large team in Hanoi, Vietnam. After an observation, I was chatting with a teacher and trying to find out how things were going for her. She brought up the fact that she was extremely uncomfortable with some inappropriate conversations happening in the teachers’ room at her school. Apparently, some of the men were talking about some of the teaching assistants in a sexual way. She didn’t give any specific names as she didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.
This put the onus on me to hold a meeting about workplace harassment and what constituted as inappropriate work talk. The situation seemed to improve and no one was ever the wiser that this teacher had raised the alarm.
Contribute to the Team
The best way to fully integrate into a new team of teachers is to be useful. If you find a useful teaching blog or website (like this one [wink, wink]) be sure to share it with the team. If you come up with a useful and fun class activity, share it with the them. If you discover a cool restaurant or bar, invite the team out.
In the TEFL lifestyle of traveling and teaching, we sometimes have to stand out of our comfort zones socially. TEFL teachers need to be a bit more gregarious than they may have been in their past life. Find out ways to help your team, and you’ll be part of the pack in no time.
If you want some easy advice on trying to improve the atmosphere in your teacher’s room. You can download my top five tips by clicking on the link below. Whether you’re a teacher or a manager, these are a few simple things you can do to drastically improve the feel of the teachers’ room.