Peace and Harmony in the Staff Room — Tips for Getting Along Well with Your TEFL Co-Workers
When new teachers of English as a Foreign Language set out for their first jobs, they’re thinking about the students they’ll teach, the new country they’ll experience and the practicalities of living abroad. But they may not consider something else that can play a large role in settling in to a teacher’s life abroad—the rest of the staff at their new school.
Your co-workers can be a delight or a horror to work with in your first TEFL job, but whether you think they sing angel’s choirs or breathe brimstone is largely up to you. Read on for some tips on how you can get along well with your new colleagues.
Have other interests
If this is your first TEFL job, and the first time you’ve lived overseas, it can be a little bit overwhelming. Well, actually, it can be a LOT overwhelming. (Read my blogs on culture shock for more about this.) New teachers may latch on to their coworkers because, as English speakers, they represent something familiar and comfortable. While the majority of EFL teachers you’ll run across are more than willing to help you get situated in your new town and with your new job, try not to wear out your welcome. Be proactive and foster interests other than calling up your new workmates for a beer after work…and on the weekend… and…. This is a prime time for you to explore your new town and the culture of the country you’re working in.
Realize that You’re New At This
Teachers fresh from a TEFL certification course are buoyed up by all that great stuff they’ve just learned. They’re gonna be the best teacher, ever! And, they’re gonna tell everyone all about it. You will be a great teacher, after some experience, but don’t forget that the teachers you now work with have been doing it longer. Some of us, quite a bit longer. Listen and learn, young padawan. There’s no quicker way to annoy your new colleagues than to spout off about stuff they already know.
Help each other
Ideally, every time you and your co-workers start a lesson, you’ll have everything planned out, you’ll be early to class, and your students will all be alert and ready to learn. Unfortunately, reality gets in the way of perfection more often than we’d like. A happy teaching staff is one that lends a hand in times of need. If you can see a way to help a fellow teacher—they’re running late to class while you’re on break and they need some photocopies done, stat—offer your assistance. Don’t become a doormat for the rest of the gang who’s been there longer, but foster a helpful work dynamic. It’s much more pleasant to work in a helpful atmosphere.
If you’re lucky enough to be entering a school that already has a helpful environment, don’t abuse it by being a jerk. Come to class on time. Prepare your lessons in advance. Be respectful of other teachers’ time and expertise. In short, be professional.
Some people say that after you’ve been doing a job for a long time, you can get in a rut. Well, foreign teachers at language schools or training centers can get in ruts, but they often get in “bubbles” too. That’s when they feel like the school, and the small community of other foreigners working there, are the entire world. Thus, perceived injustices take on a greater magnitude, and small urgencies become thrilling dramas. Keep perspective. Your co-workers, whether you think they’re great people or not, shouldn’t color your whole experience of where you work and your career as a teacher.
TED’s Tips™ #1: (Culture)Shock-proof yourself. Realize that the first few months you work in a culture not your own will be challenging. Don’t take this out on your colleagues, but don’t fling yourself on them as if they were life rafts, either.
TED’s Tips™ #2: Be professional. Always. In any profession.