Your Brain on a New Job

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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?

About Emily Meadows

Emily Meadows is an alumni of international schools and has worked as a professional educator and counselor across the world, serving children and families in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. She holds master’s degrees in the fields of Counseling and Sexual Health, and is a PhD candidate researching inclusive policy and practice for LGBTQ+ students. Emily is a consultant on gender and sexual diversity and inclusion in international schools: www.emilymeadows.org
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2 Responses to Your Brain on a New Job

  1. Marc says:

    Emily,
    I am new to the international school experience, new to IB, and I was lucky enough to get an AP position in the middle east. This analogy is perfect for how I’m feeling. Yes, I have 20 years experience under my belt, but it’s not the same and things are falling through that I know won’t in the upcoming months. Thanks for helping me reflect and knowing I’m not alone in these feelings.
    Marc

    • Emily Meadows says:

      Hi Marc,

      Congratulations on your new position, and thank you for sharing how the article connected with you personally. I completely agree that this ‘new teacher’ experience is relevant, even for veteran teachers such as yourself. Hang in there – it gets much better!

      Emily

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