Summer school experience: lessons learned

It has been a week since my amazing experience working for English Country Schools finished and I now have some time to look back and think about the things I learned. You will find this post interesting if you have recently come back from a summer camp yourself or you are considering applying for a job next summer.

If anybody asked me to summarise my experience in three words, I would probably say it was intense, fast-paced, and unpredictable. Some might argue that teaching English is always at least two of those things, but I am now sure that teaching at a summer school is a totally different ball game that helps teachers develop a specific skill set. Here is what I have learned over the last 4 weeks.

1. Planning under time pressure

Even though I have worked in a number of contexts, none has been as intense as this one. Being able to plan effectively under time pressure is a major asset and teaching at a summer camp will definitely help you improve this skill. I would strongly advise keeping your favourite activities, games, and videos on file so that you save yourself some time and stress. It also helps to remember where to look for ideas and inspiration, so make sure to bookmark your go-to blogs, websites, and YT channels before the planning mode hits you. 

2. Letting go of your precious ideas

Never before did I realise the importance of going with the flow and adjusting my lessons on the fly as much as I did over the last 4 weeks. Summer courses are short and the time your students spend with you in the classroom is very precious. You simply can’t afford to squander it on pushing topics or activities which obviously don’t work well for your learners, hoping to re-calibrate “later on”. Be ready to make quick decisions even if it means abandoning your carefully drafted lesson plan for something else which your learners are truly going to be interested and engaged in.

3. Managing multilingual and multicultural groups

This one is probably the biggest challenge for any teacher who normally works in a monolingual setting (even if it is not their native language). Keep in mind you won’t be able to rely on easy fixes to misunderstandings such as translation. Remember to grade your language and make sure your instructions are well thought out.

Working with people coming from various countries also means a variety of backgrounds; what rings a bell for some in terms of popular culture or history might be totally obscure for others. Don’t forget that while choosing topics or referencing movies, songs, and celebrities.

4. Being a team player

Depending on your regular routine, working at a summer camp might be the only time during the year when you will have to work in a team. As much as I enjoy my independence, I was really excited to collaborate more closely with other teachers and academic coordinators. This meant exchanging ideas, brainstorming solutions to various problems, and consulting whatever doubt I had. At the same time, it involved the necessity to communicate clearly, agreeing on a course of action, and sometimes compromising. Definitely an interesting change of pace from my usual freelance ways.

My first time working at a summer school was definitely a worthwhile experience, both personally and professionally, and one I would absolutely recommend to any English teacher who is looking for a new challenge and is ready to step outside their comfort zone.

And to everybody who has just finished their summer teaching job, what are your impressions? 


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