Surviving Summer School
Time to read 7 min
Time to read 7 min
For many TEFL/ESOL teachers, Summer School is a regular fixture of the year while for others it may be the first paid and practical experience of teaching English as a foreign language to students from Europe and further afield. Summer language courses can be a lot of fun, but they can also be exhausting to teach. There are some excellent summer schools but there are also some cowboy operations that are best avoided. In this article, we point out some of the pitfalls and suggest some ways to avoid them. We give some practical teaching tips to those who are new to teaching in Summer Language Schools and recommend some ways TEFL and ESOL teachers can look after themselves and make the most of their Summer-School experience.
When applying for a teaching position at a summer school do a little research and don’t be tempted to accept an offer from the first institution that accepts you without asking a few questions first. As a result of complications caused by COVID and Brexit, as well as the cost-of-living crisis, there are fewer Summer School positions available than there once were, but there are also fewer TEFL-qualified teachers than there were a few years ago. So, you might be in a stronger position than you think.
When applying for a teaching position at a language school look carefully at the company’s web page. Look at what they say and what they don’t say. There are plenty of online TEFL and ESOL teacher’s groups on Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites. Join them and ask around. Speak to your friends and colleagues; ask what they know about the institutions you are applying to. Moreover, ask those people to recommend schools to you and pay special attention to any they tell you to avoid.
When things go wrong at Summer Schools and teachers find themselves feeling they have made a mistake, the problems usually fall into the following categories.
Be sure you know what your teaching hours are likely to be and what other, non-teaching duties you may be asked to perform. Many summer schools employ “Activity Leaders” to organise and look after the students when they are not having lessons, but often the teaching staff are obliged to assist with some activities and excursions. Some of these activities can be very enjoyable and add to the overall experience of summer school work. However, it is important to know how much time you will be expected to devote to non-teaching activities and you must come to your own conclusions about how much is ‘reasonable’. Less creditable summer schools tend to employ unreliable activity leaders and ‘dump’ a lot of extra duties on the teachers. The best way to avoid this is to ask around. In less reputable schools, teachers can find themselves working all the hours they are awake. There is usually a high turnover of unhappy staff at such institutions. This is a clear sign that such schools should be avoided. Ask around in advance to avoid finding yourself in this kind of situation.
Make sure you know the health and safety provisions and regulations on the site where you are teaching. What should you do if somebody faints or hurts themselves? Who should you take them to? Is there a qualified medic or first aider? Are there defibrillators on site? If so, where are they? What should you do in case of a fire? What should you do if you get sick yourself? These things should be made clear at the interview stage or the induction stage at the latest. If the language school you are intending to work for can’t answer these questions satisfactorily, don’t work for them.
You need to be clear about what teaching materials are supplied by the school and how many of your own resources you are expected to supply. Most summer schools use their own materials or have a selection of standard course books available. If the school is using its own resources and course books try to ensure you can familiarise yourself with them well in advance of the course starting. If they use standard published coursebooks, make sure you know what they are and what the lessons involve. In both these cases check what facilities and materials will be available in the teaching areas. Is there a plentiful supply of pens and paper? Is there a photocopier you can use? Are there blackboards, whiteboards, smartboards or flip charts?
Occasionally you might be required to supply all your own teaching materials. While this should be regarded as a warning sign, it might also give you more freedom to design the course and teach in your own preferred style. However, in this case, make sure there is paid time built into the day for you to do your planning. If they expect you to stay up till midnight every day planning and preparing the next day’s lessons, and you are not being paid for that; forget it!
In all cases the more planning you can do in advance, and the more comfortable the environment provided for preparation of lessons, the better your summer school experience will be.
In most Summer Schools you will be teaching on-site, so you need to check what accommodation is being made available to you. Try to avoid situations where the teachers, activity leaders and other school staff are living and sleeping in exactly the same accommodation as the students. Some summer schools organise things in this way because they have no choice or because they see it as a way of deterring students from misbehaving at night. While this is understandable, ideally you need to be able to relax and sleep in a comfortable area separate from the students. You can’t be at your best in the working day if you are unable to sleep at night. Most of the better summer language schools recognise that fact. Similarly, you need to check where and when you can eat and drink and whether you are being paid subsistence for food while on site.
In most summer schools, students of various nationalities stay for two or three weeks at a time. It means that during the summer period, you are likely to be frequently meeting and teaching new groups of students. It is important to make a good first impression quickly in which you establish your style and the atmosphere and rules the students should expect while in your classes.
It is always good to have a few quick lessons up your sleeve, particularly when meeting a new group of students for the first time. In summer schools it can often happen that you may have to teach an unexpected session to cover for an absent teacher or when logistical problems occur. Summer school is an excellent way to build up a repertoire of lessons you can use in a multitude of situations as your teaching career progresses.
Please take a few minutes to look at some of the other articles in this blog which suggest lessons and activities to get to know students and introduce yourself and your expectations to the class. On the TEFL Toolkit site itself, you will find a lot of teaching aids and materials that can be used as quick lessons, warmers and fillers. These materials can really make your life at summer school easier.
While teaching in summer language schools can be fun (which is why many teachers return to the same schools year after year) they can also be hard work and quite exhausting. Remember you will be expected to be just as bright and active with your classes in week seven or eight as you are in week one! Pace yourself; don’t use up all your energy in the first couple of weeks.
Make sure you are familiar with the health and safety procedures at the site where you are working and how they apply to you personally.
Eat well. If the food on site can’t sustain you (possibly because you have special dietary requirements) make sure you have easy and regular access to places where you can get the food you need. If you don’t have a fridge in your room, check if there is a fridge somewhere on site that you can store food in.
Drink plenty of water. It is summer, and summers are getting hotter. You are going to be busy, and the classrooms may be hot and stuffy. You should always have a bottle of water with you. If you are staying on the site for several weeks or months make sure there is a safe and secure place you can leave your things while you are teaching or away from your room. Avoid bringing valuable things with you and don’t leave money or credit cards lying around.
Enjoy the social life wisely! If you are going to a party, do so at weekends or prior to a day off. Many of us have tried to teach while nursing a hangover from time to time and it is never fun. Moreover, it can do damage to your reputation as a teacher and your future teaching prospects.
When you do have time off, try to get away from the site and do something different to relax, perhaps some local sightseeing.
Teaching in summer language schools is a great way to hone your teaching skills and try out new ideas. If you can be helpful and adaptable in making the courses you teach run smoothly you can reference your experiences and the lessons you have learned the next time you have to update your C.V./Resume or submit an application for a new job. Moreover, in the best-case scenarios, summer schools are great fun and a chance to work with colleagues who may become long-term friends. We wish you luck and hope you enjoy your summer. If you have any interesting stories or tips about working in summer schools, we would love to hear them in the comments below.