Imagine the scenario: The suitcases are next to the front door. The taxi to the airport is on its way, the tenth repetition of goodbyes is said, and you wait uncomfortably for that moment you stride out, away from all that you know, towards your international school post.
Arriving at the airport and then boarding a flight is the place, for many teachers, that nerves set in. Multiple concerns and worries will be foremost in their mind, including what the arrival will be like. Should the new teacher have never visited the country before, or perhaps had not considered the arrival stage, they may feel already out of their depth.
So, what can school management do in those first few crucial days to support new teachers?
I have experienced excellent arrival practices, and the very opposite. For example, in one of my first teaching roles, there was no clear arrival plan. I was very much expected to “fend for myself”, and sort out most of my issues.
“We navigated the scramble for taxis only to arrive at a hotel with a dirty room, stained beds and no English spoken.”
My partner and I arrived at a manic airport with only one piece of luggage, the other piece had been lost. We successfully navigated the stressful scramble for taxis only to arrive at a hotel with a dirty room, stained beds and no English spoken.
However, an alternative experience demonstrates what an international school can do to support new teachers. Before our arrival, there were extensive conversations and on-boarding by HR. We were collected from the airport by a highly efficient service comprising of two “A-team” vans.
There was plenty of room for our luggage and baby items, it was all loaded for us, and we were whisked off to a friendly, clean hotel and offered coffee and cakes on arrival.
The room was functional for our needs, and on the bed, there was a welcome pack containing a pre-paid SIM, a guidebook, a transport card, a ring-bound key phrasebook in the local language, the school handbook, and instructions on how to contact HR.
“School staff should check the hotel itself, the rooms, and the facilities beforehand.”
The following day a lady from HR called me to check everything was okay. The hotel was well-located, surrounded by amenities and close to the school.
Such contrasting experiences are quite commonplace within the world of the international school, so I have created this article to share my own, and my colleagues’ experiences of arrivals, done well. I hope this will provide some ideas for those responsible for welcoming new staff in the first days of their arrival.
Establish the channels of communication
Upon arrival, new staff, where possible, should be collected by a member of the management team, or a colleague, to represent the school and show that first “friendly” face. Arriving in the “unknown” can feel isolating and lonely, so having this first contact to ask questions is extremely important.
Before arrival, to support the settling-in process, HR needs to have set up communication channels with new teachers, as well as connecting them with other colleagues (both old and new), and helpful contacts. “Buddying” new staff with other teachers in the same demographic is particularly useful for specific questions, such as available daycare, best locations to live, and similar queries. This way, new teachers can begin to network before a new school term starts.
“In the first few days, both new colleagues and current staff should have the chance to meet.”
In the first few days, both new colleagues and current staff should be given opportunities to meet. Of course, this will be limited whilst in quarantine to delivering a food package or sending messages. However, photos of the local area and information on future activities for the new staff who are in quarantine could be provided. Such initiatives show that the school values wellbeing and is willing to support its teachers.
Provide a well located, good standard of accommodation on arrival
International school teachers must arrive at a quality, serviceable hotel or apartment (where appropriate). School staff should check the hotel itself, the rooms, and the facilities beforehand. It is vital to ensure that the accommodation is large enough for teachers and their families, plus their luggage (or there must be the availability of a secure storage facility).
The hotel should be situated in an area with amenities such as a range of restaurants and shops, if possible. Additionally, provide a map of the local area with these marked on and/or offer the expertise of a staff member to show teachers around. If the new staff are in quarantine, advice on food delivery services should be provided as well as the full address of the hotel. Some good food recommendations wouldn’t go amiss either!
In addition to a local restaurant guide, providing other essentials can help the transition. For example, these can include a pre-paid SIM, a phrasebook, local and country guides, a school handbook, and even better, the relocation allowance and some local currency.
If the school does not provide a property for new teachers to live in, finding suitable accommodation should be fully supported by HR, as finding a home can be extremely stressful and time-consuming. At the bare minimum, the contact details of reputable agents, a guideline of prices, and an account of the best areas for staff to live in, should be provided.
However, if a staff member is available to translate (where necessary) and view properties with the new teacher, this can provide a second opinion and valuable support. When a new teacher decides upon an area to live, a list of teacher contacts who wish to connect in that area offers an early support network.
Support purchasing furniture and essentials
After a property has been secured, teachers require support to furnish it and buy essentials. Ideally, a bus or large vehicle should take the new teacher/s to stores to make these purchases. Having the stress removed of trying to establish the best way to transport goods back to their new home is priceless. Similarly, organising a trip to the local supermarket is vital for the first food shop.
Arrange events before and during induction
International school teachers often experience jet lag and for some, culture shock can kick in quickly. It is therefore a great idea, early on, to run some social events. Providing several options of the type of activity would give teachers the choice of which events best suit them. There should be a balance of active, low-key and family events. For example, arranging golf, a meal, a beach trip, a cinema trip, or a hike would all attract different types of teachers.
“There should be a balance of active, low-key and family social events for new arrivals.”
Families especially may require separate events, to help the children to make friends. Meetups at soft play, picnics, and park playgrounds for example are great for this. However, ensure that all staff has access to all events so both old and new staff can connect. This way, new teachers can find out more about the school, and establish friendships outside of the “newbie” group.
This first week of INSET can be an exhausting time for new teachers. As these teachers are likely very new to their environment, using public transport and navigating routes can be challenging. As phone contracts may not yet have been established, using google maps may not be possible. To help make travel between school and home less stressful, a bus service picking up at several locations, throughout the induction period, reduces this stress.
Often international school teachers begin induction still suffering from jet-lag, or exhausted from apartment searching and all the other jobs which need to be completed alongside a move. It is therefore in their best interest if days can be kept short, with very detailed information (such as school computer programmes, etc.) reserved for the end of the induction period, or preferably delivered as and when they are required to be used (for example, later in the term).
“A well-thought out, organised arrival programme which relieves practical concerns can help teachers focus on their new role.”
During this first week, often schools begin to set up banking, phone contracts, and vehicle purchases. Information sessions should be provided regarding these different services, as well as the offer to support teachers through translation or interpretation services, in each of these important tasks. This is especially important where a large purchase is made.
A well-thought out, organised arrival programme, taking into account the specific needs of new teachers, will help settle teachers so that when school begins they do not have worries or concerns about their life outside of work. Instead, they can focus solely on their new role, within an environment where they have already established connections. Supporting teachers’ wellbeing in this way creates stability and a feeling of trust, whereby a newly-forged team is established who are willing, energised, and ready to excel at their new posting.
Jess is the author of Becoming a Successful International Teacher, which takes aspiring international teachers through each step required to launch their teaching career overseas.
This can be purchased from Amazon Worldwide and viewed on Kindle Unlimited. Visit Jess’s own website at jessgoslingearlyyearsteacher.com