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Summer camp considerations

by Martin Keon

With summer fast approaching and recruitment issues arising for summer schools, this article has been written to offer some insight into summer schools for teachers doing this for the first time.  It is based on my own experience of teaching and senior positions in summer schools.

I’ve been teaching in summer schools for four years now and I love it.  What makes summer school so enjoyable?  It differs for each person concerned.  Some do it simply for the money (you can make a month’s wages in a week depending on what country you normally work in), but others like myself do it as a working holiday.  I’ve always enjoyed the aspects of pastoral care and seeing the students develop, not only in academic study, but also in improving their real life use of English and their life experience.  If I feel so rewarded by teaching at summer school, I imagine the students get a whole lot more.

There are a wide variety of different programmes that summer schools run.  This means a wide range of different working conditions, levels of pay etc. that affect the summer school experience. While in some schools the teacher works both on the teaching as well as social and welfare slots, in others they are asked only to teach.  If you are not prepared for the first type when you arrive you may be in for a shock, but I encourage you to get involved in the activities and take a keen interest in the welfare of the students.

Expectations of the job

As with finding a job on the Transfer List, it’s important to be aware of what is expected of you, and if this is how you want to spend your summer.  I find being a residential teacher and manager very rewarding but it’s not for everyone.  Find out what is expected of you and if you are willing to do this.  An attractive salary sometimes leads you to accept a job you underestimate.  If you go armed with enthusiasm and flexibility, you will find your summer flies as you have fun.

Duties and Tasks

Duties of the residential teacher vary considerably.  When at the summer school in Moscow, I only had to teach lessons and the rest was voluntary (which of course I did anyway as it was fun).  If you are considering a post in England then you are likely to be included on the social programme and quite possibly the welfare side too.  You don’t have to be an expert/ instructor to play football or tennis with the students, but you will be expected to participate (and this also makes your teaching easier as it’s easier to build rapport with the students).  I’ve never been particularly keen or knowledgeable on team sports but I’ve picked up quite a bit from the students.

You will have some days when you feel like you haven’t had a break and other days where you get the afternoon off, but be prepared for at least three afternoon and evening slots over the week.  You may also have welfare responsibilities as I’ll mention below.

This is something you should think about before the interview and then mention your queries during interview.  Do you have any preferences?  Is there anything you are good at that wasn’t mentioned in the application form?  This will increase the likelihood of you getting the job, and also of getting timetabled onto the activities you prefer.

What kind of lessons should be prepared?

Unlike regular lessons with a set syllabus and course book, you’ll have students from all over the world who have done different books and structural syllabi.  You may also have a mixed-ability class, and different nationalities may have different needs.  Some of them have studied grammar structures and vocabulary all academic year and need a break.

I find it’s best to use task-based learning or a functional/ situational approach.  This is what students will need if they are in England: at the shop, in the canteen/ dining hall, listening to a tour guide or seeking directions from a fast talking local.

These lessons can be done at any level and easily adapted to be more challenging.  As preparation time is often quite limited at camp, it’s a good idea to have several functional lessons in your backpack when you arrive.

If your social programme includes activities like paintball, why not include a lesson teaching basic commands and important safety instructions?  At camp last year I cringed as the instructor gave his instructions to lower level students ‘Should you have any queries, I or my colleagues shall endeavor to assist you’.  Grading these instructions for your level/ class can be very useful and it will make the activity more enjoyable for the students as they understand the activity better and will feel safer.

Task-based learning can also be employed such as organizing an event or creating a guide to your city/ country.  Project work also plays an important part in teaching the younger learners at Pre-Teens and below.  They are using language to communicate and work with others on a task.  This social chit chat while they work is important in improving their interactional speaking skills.  With older students this might include surveys where they interview real native speakers with real opinions on the street.

The rewards of pastoral care

For some this is the ultimate nightmare at camp “I’m a teacher, not a social worker”, “What am I supposed to do with them?”  For others this is what makes camp so much fun.  Welfare is an issue we don’t have to deal with as much with in our year-round jobs as in summer school.  While some prefer not dealing with welfare problems, others like myself enjoy it as it allows us to be a part of the students’ summer school experience beyond the classroom.

Summer camps experience a wide variety of welfare issues.  For a start, staff are responsible for waking up, supervising meals, teaching and general supervising of the students.  That’s not even considering the physical safety and emotional support that these students may need when they are abroad.  Couple this in with a mix of nationalities and cultures.

This can range from explaining to a student in the canteen why curry and ice-cream don’t go together on a plate, to comforting a love-sick teenager after a disastrous disco night. You may need to tell a bedtime story or give a very young learner some “magic juice” (Ribena) to cure their imagined stomachache.

I have a wealth of summer school stories that I fondly remember and retell.  Almost all of them are related to welfare and remain funny long after the last student has returned home.

Choosing a centre to work for

Your summer school experience will depend largely on the centre you work for.  Pay close attention to the job description and the contract.  Always compare your salary to your responsibilities, but remember that a fair degree of flexibility is required for summer school posts.

It is important to ask questions during the interview so that you are well informed when you choose a centre.  Compare the different websites and information available.  The best paying job may not always be the most enjoyable.

A school that works to get a balance of nationalities is important, as well as one that has a variety of excursions and social activities.

Another factor you may consider is how long you want to work for at summer school.  The usual length of contracts can be from two to eight weeks.  Many schools offer a choice of length e.g. four or six week contracts.  Four weeks is often quite short but if the summer school is demanding, you may find it’s enough.  Six is the usual length while eight might sound good in terms of cash, but consider the physical and mental demands of the longer courses as you reach Week Six.

Still unsure?  In my opinion, summer school is something not to be missed and is the most rewarding TEFL job I have had.  You can find job vacancies on the IHWO Recruitment page (http://www.ihworld.com/recruitment/ remember to check the summer vacancies tab) and also on other websites such as www.tefl.com

Apply to several positions and early.   The earlier you get the interview and answers, the more you will have time to prepare for camp and complete the CRB form (a vetting form for all YL teachers in the UK).  It also helps if a summer school makes you wait weeks for a reply.  In the case that you get no response, you can apply elsewhere.  The good positions will be filled quite quickly so it’s not a good idea to search for vacancies three or four weeks before the camp starts.

I hope this article has been of help to those still thinking about summer school and I wish you the best of luck in interviews and a summer school experience as rewarding as mine have always been.  Perhaps we’ll even cross paths.

Author’s Bio:
Martin Keon is currently ADOS YL in IH Tbilisi. He has been teaching with IH for five years. He has taught in South Korea, Russia, Italy, Latvia and Georgia as well as in UK summer schools. He was Senior Teacher Pre-Teens in IH Salisbury and YL coordinator in IH Newcastle for summer school.
His work interests include CALL, functional lessons and teaching advanced teenagers. He is looking forward to his fifth summer teaching in the UK.

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