Skip to content

Advice to New Teachers: Your mailbox (and paper)

October 4, 2008 pm31 7:38 pm

One of a teacher’s worst enemies, especially in the first year of teaching, is that little pigeon hole with your name pasted under it (or over it) in one of the administrative offices.

The first day you saw it, I bet there was a little smile, a sign you were really a teacher, or a little grimace, they spelled your name wrong. But whichever, there was no theme music from Jaws to warn you about what was lurking in plain sight.

How it attracts garbage! And important stuff. And stuff that might be garbage, but wait, maybe you need it? And what if you just leave it there and decide on your way out of school but oh, how tired you end up being and you find it (or don’t) buried under fresh garbage, er paper, the next day.

1. Don’t let things sit in your box. Take the extra minute, or two, or even three, once a day (morning is best), to carefully empty it out.

2. Identify what’s what. Throw out anything that can be thrown out. Save anything that needs to be saved. Complete anything that needs to be completed, and turn it in (how quickly? see below)

Urgent, but not important

Your Assistant Principal and Principal generate lots of this kind of stuff. They need it now. Ten minutes ago. And you know, and they probably know, that a sheet signing off on the fact that you have seen the postings on the bulletin board, everyone knows that this is not important. Doesn’t matter. They want it back. Assume it is urgent. Fill it in. Be done with it. Let it be gone.

Important, but not urgent

Materials related to pension, certification, requests for materials, etc, etc. No one is in a rush. There is time. No. These things matter to you. Fill them in as soon as you can. No one will push you, or harass you, like they will with “Urgent but not important” but you need to treat it similarly. Get a file system (see below) so that you can tuck these things away safely, and deal with them, not on the spot, but expeditiously.

You might be interested in…

You are a new teacher. You are exhausted. You are tired. You are interested in getting through your first year, and not very much else at all. Read the first few lines.

If the item steals your time (eg, a workshop) Into the trash! If the item relaxes you (weekend hike) you can hold onto to it. If it offers money to steal your time (tutoring opportunities!) Into the trash! (unless you are absolutely desperate for money, in which case do as little as possible. (If your principal wants you to sign off that you have received the notice, see Urgent, but not important, above).

If the item gives you something that you need (eg info about certification) think about whether you can afford to wait and do it at a much later date. If the item offers you progress towards certification, decide if you need it now.

And if it is a union notice: 1. meeting in your building – attend. 2. informational meeting in your borough office – weigh the importance, but probably no. 3. social event in your borough office – your choice, if you think it will be relaxing.

Rule of thumb, most goes into the trash. If you can’t decide, into the trash.

Saving for later: 3 (or 4 or 5) files

You will find things in your box that must be saved. I suggest getting one of those legal accordion folders (I am partial to pale brick red) that is divided into three sections. Or you might get three separate ones.

  • Anything related to pension, toss in one section.
  • Anything related to certification or licensure, toss in another.
  • And anything related to your progress in your school (letter assigning you there, rating sheets, observation reports, etc, etc, in the third.

It’s better if you read these things first, but note, you don’t have to. Do make time, when you are less stressed, to go through them. And please, get everything in there, without exception.

I could imagine up to two more files: a separate file dealing with pay, and yet another dealing with university stuff (masters, credits, etc)

Other posts

(The previous Advice to New Teachers posts were a place to hide and Good Luck to New Teachers (brace yourself). Also, Joel, a music teacher from far away, has an interesting series of posts with a very different sort of advice: Ten things I wish I knew as a first year teacher)

And with time, there will be more of these, here.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2008 am31 2:23 am 2:23 am

    Great synthesis of GTD and Covey in terms of the teacher’s mailbox. This applies to your email too! You might be thinking, “Oh, I don’t want to get rid of this message, I might need it…” but guess what? It doesn’t help you to have it sitting in your inbox. Route everything through Gmail and then press that “Archive” button. A lot. Search for a message if you need it. But until then… get it out of your face so you can focus on what’s essential.

  2. October 6, 2008 am31 2:33 am 2:33 am

    And I had to google GTD and Covey to find out what you meant!

    The advice here has many sources… Some of it comes from my first District Rep, retired many years. Some comes from experience (mine). Some comes from experience (colleagues).

    Not tutoring? That’s the odd occasion where the political piece and the practical piece come together.

    But the overall tone? Look, I want beginning teachers to last, so a lot of this is just about self-preservation. It would be better if the chapters actively supported new members, but in the absence of that kind of movement, let them fly under the radar, pace themselves, avoid the kinds of situations that lead to blow-ups and flame-outs… For now, the advice is only meant to keep them around until June… and if they make it that far, they are much more likely to make it further.


  1. Three over coffee. « Fred Klonsky’s PREA Prez Blog
  2. The Essence of Hope | So You Want To Teach?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: