The reality of being a private school teacher is that you will have to face an annual deadline called the contract renewal. If you are doing a good job, this annual rite should not present any problems. You will be notified that your contract is being renewed and that will be that.
But what if things are not going well? You are unhappy. You sense that things are not going well. Perhaps you have even received a written communication or two indicating that things indeed are not going well. What to do? If indeed there is no resolution to whatever issues are at the root of your mutual unhappiness, the best solution for all concerned probably is the obvious one: finish out the year and part company on the best possible terms. After all you will need the school to give you as good a reference as you can get.
In any case let's look at the renewal process from the school's point of view. Why then should we renew your contract?
Give me lots of reasons why we should do so.
It may sound obvious, but we hired you in good faith. You interviewed well and seemed enthusiastic about teaching here at St. Swithins. Your transcripts and references were sound and everything checked out. Consequently we had great expectations.
For the most part you have not let us down. Your lesson plans are well thought out. You present the material in an engaging manner. You incorporate technology into your teaching effortlessly and effectively. Your classroom management and communication skills are very good.
We particularly like the way in which your students respond to you and the subject. You are easy to understand even when explaining material which is complex. You have a high helpfulness quotient. That's so important when students have questions or need a point in the lesson retaught. Students must always feel that they can ask for help without any judgment being made. Your assignments make sense, have a stated purpose and are clearly laid out.
When you started with us, you had a tendency to be tough with the grading. But once you understood our standards and what we are trying to accomplish, you sorted that out. What we particularly like is that you have quickly established a reputation for fairness and listening to your students.
In this mock assessment of a teacher's work we quickly see how important improvement is. You must show steady improvement in your work. Understanding the school's culture and the way things are done is almost as important as what you are teaching and the way in which you teach it. Challenging students is acceptable. Continually frustrating them is unacceptable. Teaching them to think critically always has to be one of your most important objectives.
As you can see in the mini-evaluation above, schools look for specific things in your teaching and classroom manner. It frankly all boils down to whether your students feel inspired and happy around you. You are their teacher and guide but not their friend. You have to listen and mentor them, but not over-manipulate or interfere. Children learn by example. Be the best example you can be.
Within that framework it is extremely important for you in the first year of your contract to learn how to fit in with the school's style and mission as best you can. Don't be afraid to ask your administrator how you are doing and what you can do to improve your effectiveness as a teacher. Then be sure to act on those recommendations. Implicit or explicit. Follow up and ask your mentor or administrator to evaluate the progress which you have made. Administrators will generally cut you some slack if they see that you are headed in the right direction and are doing your best. On the other hand they will not be pleased with you if they feel that their comments, observations and instructions are being ignored.
It is so very important to take the initiative whenever and wherever you can to show that you are eager, enthusiastic and willing to help in any way you can. If you are asked to take on a responsibility such as supervising an extracurricular activity or coaching an intramural sport, agree to do so enthusiastically and eagerly. In your first year or so be savvy enough to test the waters if you will. What do I mean? If, for example, you see a need for an activity which is not currently offered, make some discreet inquiries to find out why somebody before hadn't already thought of that activity. There's usually a good reason why that activity is not offered. Once you have determined that an idea is worth pursuing, then pitch it to a senior member of staff. Even better convince her that it was her idea. That way any negative criticism will be shared at the worst and deflected at best.
Finally, work hard. Nobody likes a lazy colleague. Goofing off now and then is perfectly acceptable. But the overall impression you need to project in your public life is that of an earnest, hard-working professional. Students will respond positively to that.
In a private school everything is noticed and commented on. Consequently the impression you make on others in the community is influenced by many things which have nothing to do with your knowledge of your subject matter. The answers you give and the time you spend with students helping and mentoring them is a huge part of that positive impression. In a residential school you take the place of the parent. Your warmth and patience as you deal with teenagers will reflect wonderfully on you. Your testy attitude and impatience will backfire on you.
Prove your value
You have line after line of superb accomplishments in your curriculum vita. Show the school that you are eager to share your experience and talents with your students and the larger school community. If you studied abroad as a Fulbright or Rhodes scholar, sharing your experiences through photos, Powerpoint and panel discussions will inspire students to want to shoot for the stars too. You did it. They can do it too. Schools appreciate that kind of value-add.
If you are a curriculum specialist, you can provide invaluable guidance and input on the all-important academic side of things. The only thing you need to be careful of is the politics of some of these situations. If the current curriculum is the brainchild of your superiors, tread very carefully. You might find it more beneficial for your career to wait until certain people have moved on or retired before you become the proponent for major changes. Life is full of CLE's or Career Limiting Experiences. Do you really need another one?
Position yourself as somebody your colleagues seek out for advice and counsel. Never pontificate about what they did elsewhere. "When I was at St. Bartholomew's we always...." will probably raise more hackles than it is worth.
Give the impression that you love what you are doing and that you are a keeper. Your students and colleagues will quickly pick up on that love and passion which you have. It is a positive aspect to your overall worth to the school. Never forget that students and parents in a private school are your clients. Keep them happy and excited about what is happening at the school in general and specifically in your classroom and you will earn the approval of your colleagues. Then you can be assured that your contract renewal process will be concluded successfully.
Questions? Contact me via Twitter. @privateschl