by Laurie Bellet
This past summer, I worked at a different camp. This August, I began at a new school. Both experiences have impressed upon me the responsibilities inherent in being the new kid on the block. And so, it seems a natural way to start another year of “Stuff” columns, to consider what you must learn when the year is new and so are you.
First and in many ways foremost, find and complete all the paperwork necessary in order for you to be paid. You may have been a founding member of the organization you now staff but, if you have not properly submitted every deadly form, the first pay period will pass without an envelope for you. Be certain also that any necessary TB clearance is current and that you have complied with fingerprint screening (if required) as mandated. In California, that means that you have been “live scanned” in each school district(s) of employment. I guess your prints may change when you cross district lines!
Really make a point of knowing your way around the facility. The children will depend on you to know how to locate the restroom, drinking fountain and the office. Be aware of locations that are off limits to students. Actually examine the evacuation plan posted in your room and walk the route. Know how to use the phone in your room in the event of emergency and the cell phone policy for teachers during school hours.
Learn how to get the stuff you need. Most schools have forms for classroom supply requisition and maintenance requests. If your school does not, you must discover what the established protocol is. It is imperative that you understand and comply with reimbursement policies. On one hand, you might assume that you will be naturally compensated for necessary out of pocket expenditures and be disappointed. On the other hand, you might go for a long time without desired resources because you are unaware of your classroom expense allowance and how to access the funds. Make the acquaintance of the custodial staff. Ask them what room cleaning tasks are your responsibilities and what the custodial people care for. For example, although my new friend Pedro was more than eager to provide me with the counter cleaner I requested, my desired broom and dustpan do not appear to be tools he thinks I need.
Be clear on your job expectations and timelines for things like lesson plans and report cards. Is there a specific format for your lesson plans? When, how, and to whom must they be submitted? When are the due dates for student evaluations? Is there a form or will you need to write a course synopsis and student anecdotes? How will you be documenting and evaluating your class learning activities over time so that you will recall accurately and can speak concretely to a questioning parent?
Do discuss staff and student dress policy with your director. Know where and when heads must be covered. Familiarize yourself with procedures when a child claims, or truly experiences, illness in class. If you have a student with a significant medical condition, have the critical data where you can see it readily but where the student’s privacy is protected. Know the customary behavior parameters of your new school. If you are not clear on what is okay and what crosses the line at a particular school, the students may take advantage of you in an blink or, conversely, you may be perceived as irrationally strict. If your responsibilities include the school yard, know exactly where you have to be, when, and to do what! The first day of school, I was the designated “greeter.” There I was, anticipating carloads of students at the front driveway. Oops! My spot is at the back gate. And, did I know that the secretary holds the keys to the lock for that gate? Uh, no. Let’s just say, I do now!
Please be meticulous about the food policies. If you work in a kosher environment, get a list of the approved hechshers. Know the regulations governing kitchen, dish and utensil use. With our heightened awareness of food allergies, many schools are “nut” free. For some, this means no peanut products. For others, the restrictions may include any products prepared and packaged with other products containing traces of nuts. If your school has an ant problem (I am convinced that a disproportionate number of ant colonies are part of the Diaspora!), the classrooms may be totally “food free” zones.
You must also be certain about the school policy regarding the written reference to God’s name. Be scrupulous in keeping to the guidelines. Find out what you are to do with text copies containing the name of God.
Being the newcomer is exciting and intimidating. Ask questions; own up to mistakes and in a few weeks you will be an established citizen. Then, remember what it feels like when students in your class are also, the new kid on the block!