This post is part 1/6 in a series on surviving summer school. To see the rest of the posts, check here.
It’s June, July or August. For most people, this means summer holidays, relaxing on beaches, and doing very little work. For the TEFL teacher, it’s a different story. Every summer we once again pack our lives into a suitcase and prepare to spend the next few weeks working harder than some of us work all year. The rite of passage that is summer school can be a slog – something you do simply to earn money during an otherwise miserable few months of unemployment – or it can be the best job in the world. In this series I hope to help you make the most of it, so that it can be the less of the former, and more of the latter.
It’s day 0.
Before leaving for summer school (assuming your position is residential), check what you need to pack. It sounds like the most obvious thing in the world, especially if you’ve spent the last nine months living out of a suitcase, but what you need to take may well vary. A few errors of my own:
- I have arrived at a school campus 13 miles from the nearest town with no towel, only to discover that towels are not provided. Conversely I have also dragged a rucksack with contents of approximately nine-tenths towel across London, only to discover that the school does provide towels. If you have someone you can email or otherwise contact beforehand, check.
- I repeat: check where the school is. Summer schools tend to routinely call themselves after the nearest civilisation. They are normally based in boarding schools or university campuses which are nowhere near that civilisation. Do not assume you will be able to walk there or easily access it from public transport.
- I have arrived at a boarding school campus with a lovely outdoor swimming pool – with no swimsuit.
- I have arrived at summer school only to discover that I need to submit copies of almost every document I own as the school has suddenly decided that I am due for a new DBS check. My parents were not amused when I had to phone them and ask them to find, scan and email said documents.
- (A note for the female teachers: I have also had a string of miserable summer school experiences which will be forever etched in my memory as ‘the tampon day’. Unless your school is within easy walking distance of a shop, make sure you are prepared.)
Expect information overload.
Most importantly, don’t panic. Summer school inductions almost always involve you being talked at for most of a day until random facts and figures and company policies feel as if they are going to start dribbling out of your ears. During the induction, remember:
- You do not need to remember everything. Prioritise what seems to be the most important information. You need to know what to do in the event of a fire or other emergency situation. You need to know what will happen on the first day of the course, and what will be expected of you. You need to know if there are any particular places that are considered out-of-bounds (for both staff and students) and if there are any access codes for particular buildings or rooms. You do not need to know about the company’s ‘lost’ procedure when you will not be going on any trips for at least the next week. You do not need to know about the company’s complaints or disciplinary procedures – and if the event occurs where you do need to know about them, you will be able to find the information at a later date.
- Most summer schools (certainly all the ones I’ve worked for) will provide you with a staff handbook, often in digital format and then as a hard copy. If they are nice enough to give you a hard copy, make use of it! This is your place to highlight important things and make notes of the relevant important information during the induction training. This way, everything is all in the same place should you need it. (If you don’t have a hard copy of the staff handbook, allocate the first page in a notebook or a piece of paper you plan to keep very very safe for the same purpose.
- Find out who to ask if you need a recap. It’s inevitable that you won’t remember everything from the induction training – I’ve often finished the day feeling like there was so much information that I’ve absorbed almost nothing. Find out who to ask (or where to look) if you want a recap on something that you’ve missed.
Enjoy the calm before the storm.
Generally the staff arrive the day before the students at summer school. Make the most of it. Take the time to figure out where things are: most boarding schools/university campuses are built on intricate labyrinthine designs with one-way fire escape exits and stairways that rearrange themselves as in Harry Potter. Tomorrow you will be faced with endless questions from lost students. Figure out where things are now.
The people you meet at your summer school induction will be your friends and family for the next few weeks. You will spend almost every waking moment with them. You will dream about them. (I only wish I were joking). Day 0 is also the opportunity for you to get to know people without lesson planning, teaching, activities, or students getting in the way. In all seriousness though, some of my best friends are people I met whilst teaching at summer school. It’s really interesting to find out about people’s experiences of working for different schools or in different countries (and can be great if you’re not quite sure where to go next!) and it can be helpful to find out who you could potentially turn to for support when the going gets tough.
Keep calm. Get some sleep. Day 0 is only the beginning.