Right after college, I taught English in Japan on the JET programme (which I highly recommend for anyone who wants to really experience living abroad).  At my base school, I was grouped together with all the normal English teachers as a teacher’s aide – I would go into classrooms with the main teacher and supplement their lessons with my own teaching material.  In theory, it sounded great.  In practice, it was a disaster.  I discovered quickly that the guy who had my job before me was a slacker, and had been at that school for 3 years.  The staff had all but given up on the idea that my position was useful.  Some teachers grudgingly brought me along to class, only to sit me in the back and watch them teach.  Others “forgot” to bring me along.  And a few teachers were just openly hostile  – one wanted me to give her notice if I left the staff room to use the bathroom.

Please inform us if you leave the bubble, Deborah-Sensei.

It’s hard to work on a team where no one trusts you, but we all face this at various points in our careers.  Gaining credibility where you have none can appear daunting, but it can be done.  Here are some tips that helped me once upon a time in that far away land known as Japan.

Always do what you say you’ll do.

I’ve written an entire blog post about this, but it’s worth repeating here.  You should deliver on your promises.  And a promise is anything you’ll say you’ll do, not just the fervent things you vow you’ll achieve.

One of my first days in Japan, one of the English teachers asked me if I’d ever written a book on teaching English.  Taken aback, I told him, well, no.  He gave me a smug look that said, “I knew you’d say that,” so I countered his smugness with the promise that I would make a book of every lesson I ever taught and give it to him when I left the position.

Over the course of two years, I made notes on all my lesson plans and the week before I left, I gave it to him.  His eyes were wide as he accepted the thick manual and he said, “I thought you’d forgotten.”  Nope, I never forget when I say I’ll do something.

Make personal relationships with everyone on the team.

Unless you have the kind of Martin Luther King Jr. personality that allows you to make speeches and win hearts, your best bet for team cred is to relate individually to everyone on your team.  You can usually find one or two people willing to give you a chance, and if you’re successful, word of mouth travels fast.

Before each lesson, I made it a point to talk to each teacher and plan ahead on future classroom visits.  While they were reluctant at first to let me try anything, I managed to get a few of them to allow me to teach a mini-lesson at the beginning of the class.  When that was successful, word spread, and more of the teachers allowed me to teach with them.  I had teachers a year into my tenure come up to me begrudgingly saying they’d heard so much about my lessons that they wanted me to teach with them for the first time.  By the time I left Japan, I hadn’t been “forgotten” for class in over 6 months, something that used to happen to me regularly when I began.

Learn, learn, learn.

You should be willing to learn in any new position.  I don’t care who you are, you probably don’t know everything there is to know about a subject.  Go online and start reading blogs, visit your local library, or seek out experts who have done before what you’re doing now.

Because I was one of a thousand English-speaking teachers across Japan, there were tons of resources for me to find lesson plans and learn from other teachers’ mistakes.  I kept my ears open for new ideas and swapped some with local teachers.  Some of my fellow teachers even got their ESL certification while we were in Japan.  Learning is an act of professionalism that will get you noticed.

Be patient.

Credibility is earned, not given, and anything earned takes a while to build.  Have you ever worked with someone who thought you should believe in their ability just because they say so?  I bet you didn’t like it then, and no one else likes it when you use your title or position to demand credibility.

Even though it burned my buttons that I was being compared to the “previous guy,” I swallowed my pride and went about my business.  Over time, the comparisons stopped, and I had my own reputation.  If I had complained about unfairness or demanded people have faith in me, it would have never worked.

What have you done lately to gain credibility in your field?

-Deborah Fike

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