August 25, 2013 by gemmalunn
Last week I finished my six week sentence stint teaching 9-16 year olds at a summer school. It was my first time working at a summer school in the UK and despite being hard work and pretty intense it was also a lot of fun and a great learning experience. I thought I’d share a few things I learnt over the 6 weeks which will hopefully be useful for future summer schoolers!
This is obviously essential in any classroom but given the short length of the courses and contact time with the students (possibly only 1.5 hours a day for 2 weeks) combined with the mix of nationalities, getting to know your students well and quickly is even more vital in a summer school. You may only have 15 hours to get to know each student, find out their strengths, weaknesses, needs, likes, dislikes and of course help them improve their English skills! Having a range of good ice breakers and warmers is a must; Eva Buyuksimakesyan (@evab2001) has some great ideas on her blog here: http://evasimkesyan.com/2013/06/30/some-cool-summer-school-ideas/
Interacting with students as much as possible outside of the classroom is a great way to help build rapport in the classroom, whether this is a quick chat in the lunch queue or playing a game of volleyball, it all helps. Despite the short course lengths I think it is well worth taking the time to conduct a needs analysis. From experience I’ve found teens always appreciate this as they are not often asked what kind of things they like to do in class, doing this as a group brainstorming activity also helps students get to know each other and also their peers’ expectations better. This also gives you a good opportunity to outline the style of the classes and type of activities students will be doing. Don’t be disheartened if it takes a while to build a good rapport, I found some nationalities relaxed very quickly whilst others took much longer to adapt to the class and their classmates.
As with any classroom you have to be sensitive to different cultures and how students may act towards each other, for some students a summer school may be the first time they’ve been in a multicultural classroom. You also have to be very adaptable in terms of your lessons and activities as one activity which may have worked the previous week with Brazilian and French students may not work so well the next week with Russian and Chinese students (yes I’m talking from experience!). For many students this may be their first experience in the UK and in an EFL classroom, it may therefore take them a while to get used to the different teaching style and focus of the class; as mentioned above, outlining course aims and activities at the beginning may help students adapt better.
Trying new things
With students coming and going and classes changing every week summer schools give you a good opportunity to teach a range of abilities and ages you may not have taught for a while or even at all. Some schools are quite flexible in terms of the syllabus and may let you prepare and use a lot of your own materials; another good opportunity to try new things. For example, at our school we decided to do a lot of project work and even some acting, something most teachers had not tried before.
Teachers at summer schools come from a variety of backgrounds, therefore it’s a great place to make new friends, network and get information about teaching in different countries and possibly future jobs!
Making the most of your time off whilst working at a summer school is vital if you want to avoid burnout! As most schools are residential you spend a lot of time with other staff members and students. When choosing a summer school think carefully about what kind of environment you want to be in. i.e. in a town centre or more isolated. I chose to work close to my parents’ homes so when I had a day off I could leave the school and get a proper break; this definitely helped a lot. Also, spend a decent amount of time researching summer schools, or better still get recommendations. Think about whether you’d prefer to do mostly teaching or a mixture of teaching and activities, I personally think the latter option is better as it allows you more time to interact with students outside of the classroom.
Enjoy it and stay positive!
As I said and I’m sure anyone who’s worked at a summer school will agree, they are hard work. However, they are also very rewarding and offer a pretty unique experience as well as a break from your normal teaching schedule. To get the most out of summer schools you have to be adaptable, willing to work hard and I think most importantly stay positive!