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  Stepping into a South African public school as a teacher is like entering a bustling marketplace; vibrant, diverse, and full of potential. While navigating this exciting space, building positive relationships with your colleagues, learners, and the principal is crucial for a successful first year.

Here are some Do's and Don'ts to guide you:

A: Do's:

  • Colleagues:
    • Seek mentorship: Find experienced teachers you can approach for guidance and support. Their insights into school culture, curriculum specifics, and classroom management can be invaluable.
    • Embrace collaboration: Share lesson plans, teaching tips, and resources with colleagues. Collaborative planning can enrich your own teaching and benefit all learners.
    • Respect diversity of opinions: Public schools encompass a vast range of teaching styles and philosophies. Listen to your colleagues with an open mind and learn from their perspectives.
    • Volunteer and show you are willing to learn and help with school activities.
    • Politely ask where you can sit in the staff room. Some staff members have their favourite spots.
    • Find out where you can park your car before you accidentally end up in someone else's parking spot, or worse, the principal's parking spot.
  • Learners:
    • Get to know them individually: Invest time in understanding each learner's name, background, strengths, challenges, and learning styles. This individualizes your teaching and builds trust.
    • Foster a safe and inclusive classroom: Ensure every learner feels respected and valued, regardless of their background or ability level. Promote open communication and address any bullying or discrimination swiftly.
    • Set clear expectations and provide regular feedback: Clearly communicate learning objectives, assessment criteria, and classroom rules. Give constructive feedback often to help learners improve.
    • Be fair and consistent.
    • Rather be a little too strict than too lax with learners at the beginning of your career.
  • Principal:
    • Maintain open communication: Keep the principal informed about your successes, challenges, and any learner issues. Regular communication builds trust and fosters a collaborative environment.
    • Actively participate in school initiatives: Show your willingness to contribute to the school community by getting involved in events, committees, or professional development opportunities.
    • Seek feedback and guidance: Don't hesitate to ask the principal for feedback on your teaching and suggestions for improvement. Their insight can help you grow professionally.

B: Don'ts:

  • Colleagues:
    • Engage in gossip or negativity: Avoid criticizing colleagues or participating in schoolyard politics. Maintain a positive and professional attitude towards everyone.
    • Compete instead of collaborate: Teaching is not a solo game. Sharing resources and expertise benefits all educators and ultimately, the learners.
    • Ignore school policies or procedures: Familiarize yourself with school policies and procedures, and adhere to them. Respecting established guidelines ensures smooth operation and fosters professionalism.
  • Learners:
    • Make assumptions about learners' abilities: Every learner brings unique potential and challenges. Avoid stereotyping or underestimating any learner's capabilities.
    • Favour individual learners: Treat all learners with fairness and respect. Avoid biases or favouritism, which can damage classroom morale and trust.
    • Give up easily on struggling learners: Every learner requires your support and guidance. Differentiate your teaching and provide extra help to those who need it most.
    • Never get too familiar with learners. Maintain a professional relationship.
    • Mood swings.
  • Principal:
    • Avoid unnecessary conflict: If you have concerns, raise them with the principal respectfully and professionally. Seek solutions through open communication and compromise.
    • Disregard feedback or directives: Be open to constructive criticism and guidance from the principal. Their feedback can help you improve your teaching practice.
    • Go it alone: Remember, the principal is there to support you. If you face challenges, reach out for assistance and leverage the school's resources.

Bonus tips:

  • Be kind, cheerful and enjoy your first of many wonderful years of teaching.
  • Be friendly with the administrative staff, the caretaker and cleaners. Treat them with respect because they can make your life very easy. Or difficult.
  • Learn a few basic phrases in some of the local languages spoken by your learners and colleagues. This gesture shows respect for their cultural heritage and strengthens relationships.
  • Rather do too much too soon than too little too late.
  • Familiarise yourself with the content of the PAM document (Personnel Administrative Measures), because it contains all the conditions of service. It is available at

Navigating the South African public school landscape is a rewarding journey, especially when you actively build positive relationships with your colleagues, learners, and the principal. By following these Do's and Don'ts, you can approach your first year with confidence, make a positive impact on your learners, and thrive as a teacher in this vibrant educational environment.

Remember, you are not alone on this journey. Embrace the challenges, celebrate the successes, and enjoy the incredible experience of shaping young minds in South Africa's diverse and dynamic public schools.