Tag Archives: new faculty

Your Brain on a New Job



This post is for those starting a first international school gig, or those in a new position/country who could use a reminder about beginning again. Share this with your colleagues who may fall into those categories.

Arrival: Your brain as a large sieve

Arrival brain

You are holding onto only the basics, and letting the rest filter out, like through the holes of a (very) large sieve. You might be astonished at what you are unable to retain. At this arrival stage, you are discarding all but the most essential information so as not to clutter your mind. When a well-intentioned colleague offers tips on a restaurant they went to in a cool part of the city, your eyes glaze over; you have no idea where that is and can’t pronounce the name of the restaurant; you’ll never remember it. When a teammate mentions a unit coming up in January, you wonder if you will still be around then. An incredible amount of input is firing at you. You feel overwhelmed, like you are not keeping up. Doesn’t help that you probably are still living out of a suitcase to some extent. It’s not your fault, it’s totally normal, and it will get better!  

Settling In: Your brain as a medium sieve

Settling in brain

A couple of months in, you begin to recognize yourself again somewhat, though you are probably less organized than usual, and are still having to apologize for dropping the ball in situations when you normally wouldn’t. Your new living space is functional, if not yet beautiful. You’ve learned how to independently meet basic needs in your new location, such as getting groceries, submitting supplies requests, and saying hello/good-bye in the local language. You’ve got a number of new friends and colleagues whose company and support you are grateful for. You realize with relief that you are retaining more details – those metaphoric holes in your brain are narrowing. Your capacities are beginning to return from the chaos of the arrival, but your stamina may also be waning.

Second Semester: Your brain as a fine sieve

Second semester brain 

The background noise of life in your new place has quieted, and you are starting to shine at work. Your students’ faces, and even those of their parents, have become familiar. You know what makes your students tick, and can personalize your lessons to suit. You have established favourite spots in town to get a coffee, go for a run, get your hair cut. You’re already thinking ahead to what local souvenirs and gifts you want to bring back for friends and family this summer. You may even be inquiring about taking on additional roles at work for next year. When you get new information now, you are able to categorize and retain it appropriately.

By this time next year: A full sieve set

Next year’s brain

You’ll have an established set of sieves and will be able to determine and customize which to use in any given situation, expertly juggling between them and even anticipating in advance which to have ready. Hang in there – the adventure of a first year may feel overwhelming at times, but it will be over before you know it.

What are your tips to make it through the first year?

I hated school, so I became a teacher…

Anyone? Anyone?

I know you’ve seen that video clip a million times, but it captures my education and makes you wonder how on earth many of us went into the business to start with.

How often do we talk about our educational experience as a history of how we learned? I’ve heard many times that we teach how we learned. That is scary because for me because it wasn’t pretty. I had a couple of good teachers, but it was mostly stand and deliver in such a soul crushing way I still don’t know how I decided to become one.

At our school, we have a new faculty retreat and one of my favorite exercises with the new staff is to have them draw a history of their education and talk about it with their peers. It’s amazing what comes out of it. Not only do I learn about the type of people they are but it tells so much about how they interact with their profession and actually teach others. I wish we had time to do such exercises in the interview process. British systems, Canadian, Czech, Australian, Swiss. It’s amazing how disparate their educational experiences were and how it affects their interaction with our audience. It’s truly an experiment.

The noblest in our profession got into it because we are maybe passionate about a subject matter that for some reason we didn’t pursue as a career, or maybe we really like igniting that spark of learning, the energy of youth and the world of possibility. It’s all good stuff. I actually liked my critical thinking classes in history which is how I went after a degree in politics and pursued my passion to get others involved in the same. It led to my strong belief that young people can and should make a difference in the communities around them and thus a pursuit of service learning before it really had a name. I guess that part of school was okay.

It’s worth it to sit down and write your education history. Share it with others and discuss. How did you get where you are? Did you hate school? Was there a passion that you didn’t pursue or maybe something that you hope to ignite in others? Is there a passion that still drives you? I have to say, the dialogue that is happening now around learning has actually recharged my batteries and my passion around what I do. I still kind of hate school. But wow, do I love learning.