Teaching at Summer Schools: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Written by: Larry Walder



Time to read 10 min

It is that time of year when Summer Schools offering English courses in Britain start advertising for teachers. TEFL and ESOL teachers will be considering whether to return to a school they have worked at before or try something new. For newly qualified teachers with a CELTA or similar certificate under their belt, summer school may be their first venture into the TEFL world. Teaching English in a summer school setting comes with its own set of advantages and challenges.

In this article, we look at the good, the bad and the occasionally ugly side of teaching in these seasonal institutions. Along the way, we will provide some tips on what to look out for when applying or interviewing for summer school TEFL jobs.

The Good

Experience and Development

Teaching in a summer school is often the first job in the TEFL world that teachers do. Usually, the students who attend come from a variety of countries which means that English is the language they use to communicate with each other, in and out of the actual classroom. This can make the actual teaching easier. Seasonal summer schools allow teachers to gain a lot of experience in a short time and refine their teaching techniques as they go along. As you teach more courses and perhaps sample different schools, there will be opportunities for professional development. In a relatively short time, you will gain experience teaching students of different ages and at different levels of ability. Moreover, you may be asked to take on more senior teaching roles within the school which will help you to develop organisational and managerial skills alongside your teaching experience. The varying opportunities and experiences gained at summer school can give you quite a lot to add to your C.V.

Culture and Sports

Summer schools often incorporate recreational activities and cultural excursions alongside language classes. In some schools, teachers are required to attend cultural excursions to museums, nearby cities and places of interest. Whilst having to supervise students on coach or train excursions can be stressful, it is also an opportunity to see and do things that you might never get around to otherwise. You may also be expected to supervise or help with outdoor games or sporting activities. If this is not for you, ask about it before signing a contract. If you enjoy such activities, it can be fun, and you may learn something new. 


Some summer schools have their own textbooks while other schools expect the teachers to create all lessons from scratch using whatever materials are to hand (which may be quite limited). This can be a bit daunting, but it also provides an opportunity to experiment and incorporate interactive and engaging teaching methods, such as games, projects, and outdoor activities. There may be times later in your teaching career that you come to miss the freer teaching style that summer schools often depend on.

Cultural Diversity

Summer schools often attract students from diverse cultural backgrounds, providing a rich environment for cultural exchange and language practice. It also gives the students a genuine reason to speak English in your classes, which may be lacking in more monolingual teaching environments. Moreover, you are bound to make your own connections and friendships with group leaders and teachers from many countries and cultures. And if cultural and social diversity is not something that appeals to you, you just might be in the wrong job!

Time Limitations

The short duration of summer programmes can be both a pro and a con. While they offer intensive learning opportunities (for both students and teachers), at summer school you don’t have time to cover a wide curriculum, and neither do you get the chance to see your students develop their skills and confidence – one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching. Summer school teachers may also feel pressured to prioritise certain language skills or topics at the expense of others. Again, you need to communicate with the school in advance to check what their priorities are, and what material they expect the students to cover over two, three or four weeks. On the other hand, the speed with which the courses pass, and students come and go, can be an advantage. If you are stuck with a difficult class, at least you know they will be gone in a few days or weeks! Meanwhile, you are gaining valuable experience - and if you are new to teaching, you will have regular opportunities to start afresh with new classes and try out different approaches to hone your skills.

Motivated Students

In the best-case scenario students who attend summer language programmes can be highly motivated to improve their English skills. Many of them enrol voluntarily and have a strong desire to learn, making teaching more rewarding and effective. Some may be working towards external exams such as Trinity and are keen to learn or revise as much as possible to boost their exam chances. Others simply value English as a means of communication and relish the opportunity to make new friends in Britain and with students from other countries. However, as we shall see, not all students fall into the best-case scenario category.

The Bad

Unmotivated Students

It is a sad fact that some students at Summer School don’t really want to be there. Their parents may have packed them off for their own reasons - which can leave them feeling resentful, unhappy and uncooperative. It is best to see this as a challenge and hope to win the students over with engaging lessons and activities. However, there are often a few such students who do not adapt to the programme and who can become difficult and disruptive.

Classroom Management Challenges

The diverse backgrounds and motivations of summer school students can present challenges in classroom management, particularly when numbers drop and there may be pressure to merge classes. You may end up with a diverse range of students, and you will need to navigate varying language levels, learning styles, and behavioural problems. In the best Summer Schools, there should be support and guidance for dealing with these problems. It is worth asking some probing questions during your initial interview. If there does not seem to be much in the way of support, teaching under these conditions can be very tiring and depressing.

Limited Resources

Summer schools often have limited resources compared to year-round educational institutions. This may be more likely at residential centres, where there might not be a regular staffroom or library facilities. This can impact the availability of teaching materials, technology, and sometimes even basic classroom space. Teachers need to be resourceful and creative in their approach and able to adapt quickly to changing situations. Always ask where you will actually be teaching during your interview and what resources and materials you will be able to use. Be very wary of any interviewers who can’t give a simple and straight answer to such questions. And remember to prepare in advance by downloading or bookmarking any favourite online resources or websites. It is worth keeping a folder of digital resources on your laptop or smart device, or even taking a small folder of physical resources with you, along with a few handy teaching aids like a beanbag, some dice and some flashcards.

If you want some quick easy teaching ideas, why not check out our 50 Bright Ideas and 50 more Bright Ideas card packs, or download some of our ready-to-use teaching resources?

False Expectations

When students arrive with false or misleading expectations of what their course and their accommodation will be like, this can cause resentment and difficult behaviour down the line. The same is true for teachers! It is worth getting hold of a brochure before the course begins to find out what the students and their parents have been sold. If this doesn’t match what is in your job description, there could be problems ahead. If it is a ‘live in’ summer school, try to get a clear idea of what the teacher accommodation is like and if it is separate from the student accommodation.

Work-Life Balance

The intensive nature of summer programmes can make it challenging for teachers to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Many summer schools require you to live on-site, meaning you are surrounded by students even when you are not on official duty. It is always worth checking what extra-curricular supervision duties you will be expected to undertake. More generally, long hours, demanding schedules, and the pressure to deliver results within a short timeframe can take a toll on teacher well-being. On the flip side, if you go in with your eyes open and are prepared to throw yourself into the role it can also be great fun! There will also be a temptation to socialise with other teachers and activity leaders frequently, so know your limits, and don’t be afraid to duck out of optional social events every now and then.

Division Of Responsibilities

Most summer schools employ both teachers and activity leaders. Generally, the teachers must have some form of qualification and they take charge of the teaching itself and assist with all academic matters within the school. Activity Leaders are more often hired on the basis of relevant experience. Their job is to entertain and supervise the students when they are not in class. This means organising and leading cultural and shopping excursions, sports, games and outdoor activities. In theory, all employees working with young people must have a DBS check.

Often Teachers are also obliged to help out and or supervise during some out of class activities. This may sometimes include the dreaded night duties where staff have to check that all the students are safely in their rooms by bedtime! The problem is that teachers often end up doing more than their fair share of extra duties because there are not enough activity leaders on duty. It is really worth checking what extra duties you may be required to perform before signing any contracts. This is often one of the biggest points of contention that teachers at summer schools have.

The Ugly

The ugly side of summer schools can usually be summarised as a disregard for the welfare, health and safety of staff and students. Sadly, there are some ‘cowboy’ companies operating summer schools. Historically there has been a lack of supervision and accountability in the seasonal industry. Ask yourself if the students are well looked after and supervised when needed. Is the accommodation provided for students and staff adequate? Are there reasonable measures and procedures in place to keep everyone (including the teachers) safe? Or are corners clearly being cut? Institutions that don’t pay attention to these things tend to build up a bad reputation for themselves quite quickly. There are plenty of online groups for TEFL and ESOL teachers where you can ask around and investigate the summer schools you are thinking of working at. Be careful that your own reputation is not tarnished by working at the wrong school.

Personal Experiences

I've been in the TEFL/ESOL field for many years and have experienced many of the good, bad and ugly aspects of summer schools as described above. However, most of my summer school experiences have been positive. They were mostly fun times and provided me with an opportunity to learn and grow as a teacher and make friends from all over the world. I started working in Summer Schools while studying to be a teacher at university. Since then, most of my jobs have been full time in other countries but there were a few summers when I had the possibility to do a little work in summer schools again. It can make a nice change and bring in useful extra cash.

I have had a few less pleasant experiences though. The worst was at a large but poorly managed summer school based on a university campus. A plague of rats on the campus grounds was the least of our problems! The teachers seemed to be the only responsible people on the site, while the management and the activity leaders spent most of their time getting drunk. This led to some serious safeguarding issues, prompting the entire teaching staff to resign and report the company to the police. A short time later the company closed down. Fortunately, these nightmare scenarios are rare, but they do occasionally happen.


The key to having a good experience in summer schools is to do your research first. Ask around and check online. Find out as much information as you can before applying to a school. If you are invited for an interview, do more research and prepare some questions. Be clear in your own mind what you are looking for in a seasonal teaching job and what you would not find acceptable. Summer schools took a hit during the pandemic and are only just starting to bounce back. Therefore, well qualified and experienced TEFOL teachers are in demand and can be a bit more choosy.

If you would like further information on Summer schools, check out our Surviving Summer School Blog for some practical teaching tips and recommendations on how to look after yourself and make the most of your Summer School experience.

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