What do we mean by “Don’t be polite”?

When you’re the new kid on the block, you will inevitably feel like something of an outsider. As you arrive, fresh-faced and raring to go, you see your new colleagues bustling about, shepherding students from place to place, marking homework and tests, heading to perform their lunchtime duties and whatnot. It’s daunting because it can feel like you’ll never be as familiar and integrated as those established and experienced members of staff.

You’ll quickly become busy, too, and when you’re new, you can quickly feel burdensome or a pain if you have to keep asking questions to your mentor or other department colleagues. You might think to yourself, “no, I won’t bother them; I’ll just work that one out myself.” This is the politeness to which we refer.

Why shouldn’t I be “polite”?

The fact is that during your ECT years, there will be many questions, and whatever your colleagues’ reaction to their frequency, they too have been through the NQT/ECT years and should be able to understand your position. Your mentor and school leadership will certainly agree that when it comes to being a new teacher, there is no such thing as a daft question. Remember the following things:

1. Every school is a bit different

Though schools may follow a standard version of a curriculum, that doesn’t extend to school’s scheduling, procedures and other areas of policy. Your training years can’t fully prepare you for every school’s particular requirements. It is crucial, therefore, that you are ready and willing to ask questions as and when you need to; otherwise, you might run into more serious difficulty.

2. A little inconvenience is worth averting a major mistake

If you stick to your politeness policy, then you may feel better for it in the short term, but what about when you run into a critical error that stems from that act of choosing not to make an enquiry? Let’s say, for example, that you haven’t enquired into the school’s policy on which areas of the school are out of bounds to students at lunchtime, but then an accident happens on your watch when students are where they’re not supposed to be. If you’d bothered to ask first, then the whole situation could have been avoided.

3. More questions will help you learn and integrate faster

In addition to the above cost-benefit scenario, we would also add that being a little irksome with your questions in the short term is a small price to pay for you to more quickly become a fully integrated, functioning and helpful member of the faculty. We are confident that your mentor, department head, head of year and headteacher will all be glad that you are making an active effort to learn more and get up to speed quickly. This brings us to the final point.

4. Far from being irritating, you’ll show your pro-active, can-do attitude

When you’re a teacher in either a public or private school, you can’t afford to just sit by and wait for things to happen. You have to be an active individual, a doer, creator, thinker and action taker. These are qualities that school leadership admire. When you are asking questions, this is another form of being proactive. Far from just sitting and waiting for instructions from either your mentor or department head, you’ll gladly find out what you need to know and then get on with the tasks at hand.

What steps should you take?

It’s easy for us to keep telling you not to be polite, but there are also some simple steps you can take to get this shift underway.

Step 1: Start as you mean to go on

Find opportunities to ask questions on your very first day. This will embolden you to ask more in the days that follow and will also indicate to you who the most receptive and helpful among your colleagues are when it comes to particular problems.

Step 2: Keep a record of your questions and answers

One way to stay inquisitive without getting repetitive is to keep a record of the questions you have asked and their answers. Make a note of each and each night when you get home; make a point of studying your notes from each day and reflecting on them.

Step 3: Focus most of your questions on your mentor

Your assigned mentor should act as the first port of call for the vast majority of your questions. You can probably get all or most of what you need from them. This, too, will hopefully embolden you and sharpen your mind to ask relevant questions to other staff members down the line when the need arises.

Finally, don’t bite off more than you can chew. You can keep questions and uncertainties to a minimum by initially sticking to what is required of you and not trying to do too much all at once. As they say, you’ve got to learn to walk before you can run. Good luck to all ECTs in their upcoming years. It can be a real trial, but it could also be the most rewarding and enjoyable year of your working life.