This is part 3/6 of a series on Surviving Summer School. To read the other parts check here.
At every summer school I’ve worked at so far there has been, to a greater or lesser extent, a Great Divide between ‘them’ and ‘us’ – the teachers and the activity leaders. Everyone on the staff at a summer school is working together to make it an enjoyable experience for the kids, so we’re all on the same team, right? In theory, yes. But it can be hard to believe. As one of the seemingly rare hybrid species who have done both roles, here are some mediating letters to both sides.
You may think that our role as Activity Leaders is less important (or you may have even been told as such by well-meaning but ill-informed management). The fact of the matter is that this is simply not true. Much as the sense of taste is damaged with no sense of smell, we are a team. Without you, the students would simply play games, do sports and do arts and crafts for the whole summer – all in their own languages. Without developing their English skills, they would not have the ability or the confidence to strike up a conversation with a student with a different first language… and as a result everyone’s experiences would be far less rich. During activities, however, is when the language they have learnt in class becomes a real, ‘living’ thing. Using English as a tool to communicate will develop their confidence, their self-esteem, and their English as well, and this is something the students will hopefully experience outside the classroom as well.
We know you are tired after teaching for the morning and are mentally busy planning for the following day. But please, please try to be enthusiastic about activities. Unless we tell you otherwise, you aren’t in ‘teacher mode’ here, we are – so a lot of the time you can simply join in and have some fun! You don’t need to be a skilled sportsman/woman. Some of the students inevitably won’t be either, and the best thing you can do for the reluctant student who wants to sit on the sidelines is to take part and show enthusiasm yourself.
Likewise, please try your hardest to be flexible – as in the classroom, things can and do go wrong. If the plans suddenly change or something doesn’t work as intended, please try to be understanding. The best thing you can do is to offer to help or to ask what needs to be done – then do it.
Often we are pretty young – most of us are university students. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are immature, irresponsible or simply in this job for the money. Who knows, one day we might do a CELTA and become one of you!
Your Activity Leaders
Dear Activity Leaders,
Teaching for the day and then being expected to do activities is hard. Teaching takes a lot of energy, and by the time we come to you in the afternoon we may well be occupied by the events that happened in our lessons – the student who was struggling, the student we think should probably move up a level, the one who doesn’t seem to mix well with the others and the one who is downright angry about being here.
Activities are your time to shine. Please take the lead here and make sure you plan what we’re going to do, where we’re going to be, and make sure that the space and equipment are available. As teachers, we know all about planning, and no one enjoys an unstructured ‘let’s just go down to the sports field and kick a ball around’ as much as a properly organised event.
As previously mentioned, by the time we get to you we are tired. We don’t intend to be deliberately obtuse, but it can really help us if you give us specific tasks to do – collect the footballs from here, supervise this group of students, help this group of students sort themselves into teams. After a morning of making tens of decisions, we don’t really have the energy to play guesswork to figure out what you want us to do. (This is why we might be standing in a little group in the corner of the field talking, not because we are deliberately trying to annoy you).