Whether you are an experienced TEFL teacher or have just finished your CELTA, teaching English as a Second Language at a summer school can be a truly rewarding and worthwhile experience. Aside from moving you further in your teaching career, it allows you to work and learn from colleagues of different walks of life and nationalities, make new connections and help students not only learn English, but also find their feet in a new country and/or setting while having an unforgettable summer.
It is also a good opportunity to understand if you like teaching young learners, as students are usually either children or teenagers. Summer schools are a great place to learn new techniques for managing younger students, holding their attention and creating fun and engaging lessons.
Here is a list of five other reasons why you should consider embarking on the adventure of teaching ESL at a summer school!
1. You get to know your students outside of the classroom.
When working at a summer school in an English-speaking country, you will be taking care of students who have travelled to spend a few weeks immersed in the language and culture of the place they are visiting. Consequently, depending on the school, you are likely to be involved in afternoon and evening activities and excursions.
If you are a residential teacher, you will sleep in the same building the students sleep in (the ones who are not staying with host families) and you are responsible for safeguarding duties such as registering them as they have breakfast or go to bed, supervising their meal time, and making sure they are safe and comfortable at all times.
Even when teaching at a summer school in a non-English speaking country, attended mainly by local students, you still spend a lot of time with students outside of the classroom. Summer schools are usually quite intensive and, because of the particular season they take place in and their more informal nature, they often involve outdoor activities. When I was teaching at ‘Summer Fun’, the International House Milan summer camp for children aged 6-to-11 in 2016, we took students to the garden every afternoon for playtime in English and rehearsal of songs and plays for the Friday show for parents which was also held outside.
Supervising students as they chat away with their friends, play a sport or explore a new place can be very interesting: it can give you some insight into the behaviour of a kid who in class is too lively or does not behave. Or it can offer you a chance to reach out to someone you have noticed being more quiet than usual or uncomfortable around his or her peers.
Students might feel more connected to you and therefore listen to you more if they have seen your ‘human’ side, especially teenagers. When I was a group leader in Australia at a campsite, I bonded with my 15-year-old students, who I had previously problems gaining the trust of, by showing them how scared I was when zip lining for the first time.
Even without necessarily facing your fears, just by discovering a common passion for shopping, ferris wheels or video games, you can prove to your students you are not just their teacher, but also a person they can relate to. However, don’t get discouraged if no one joins you on the dance floor on disco night! Even if you feel just a tiny bit older than your teenage students, they might not see it that way.
2. You get to teach a multicultural class
Students who attend summer schools, especially in English speaking countries, come from all over the world. You can take advantage of this unique multicultural environment in a variety of ways. You can organise interesting debates to help older students discover similarities and differences between countries. You can set up project lessons in multinational groups to allow students to make friends and learn from each other.
During my experience at summer schools in the UK, I benefited from taking care of students of different nationalities as much the students did. I learned a lot about other cultures, customs and traditions. Also, multicultural classes can sometimes be easier to manage, because, particularly when there are enough speakers of different languages, using English sounds more natural to students than when speaking to people from the same country or language group.
It is also interesting to exploit the differences between cultures by pairing up individuals of nationalities which are usually more outgoing and talkative to the ones which are shier and quieter. This can help livelier students learn to give room to others and quiet students to get involved more.
3. You get to learn from your colleagues and mentors
Summer schools are great places to learn: they usually provide the opportunity to attend training and CPD sessions on topics which will be helpful also after summer is over (i.e. the use of technology in the classroom, how to include movement in your lessons, how to teach a multilevel class, etc.). The summer school you teach at might also organise observations between fellow teachers. Sometimes you might even be assigned a mentor who will help you prepare for your classes.
Moreover, you often get to share your students with a co-teacher or two: for instance, you might teach a group in the early morning which will be taken over by your colleague later on in the day. Working in a team is a good opportunity for exchanging tips, feedback on students, and techniques and topics which are best suited for them. Just as you get to spend a lot of time with students, the same applies to your colleagues: at summer schools you particularly feel part of a team, because you share more than just teaching the same class.
Whether you are residential or not, you have the chance to see your colleagues outside of the classroom more often than at a regular teaching job over the year. Therefore, there are plenty of opportunities to bond and make lasting friendships, especially because you also get to enjoy the excursions and activities of the students. If no one joins you for a group dance while you supervise disco night, perhaps one of your colleagues will!
4. The job is always different
It is difficult to get bored while teaching at a summer school. Activities in the classroom are quite varied: from themed lessons (e.g. Harry Potter, circus, zombies, etc.), to pre-excursion lessons, to diary writing lessons. Also your duties and schedule might vary. One week you might be working evening activities and the next afternoon activities. One day you examine new students and the other you attend a farewell meeting for the ones who leave. According to the length of your contract, you might change groups of students quite often.
You can also challenge yourself by teaching different levels, even levels you have never taught before. Summer schools are good places where you can experiment, overcome your fears and step outside your comfort zone. You might discover you have an unexpected talent for acting, doing arts and crafts or playing basketball. Teachers grow alongside the students.
5. It is fun!
Summer schools are halfway between a job and a holiday. Even though you have a lot of different responsibilities, you can’t help having fun while taking your students on a trip to the beach (if you teach at a seaside town), exploring a destination you have never seen before, watching a show performed by your students, and looking at photos they have taken for a photo challenge. You sometimes feel as if you are a student yourself, going on new adventures and discovering new places.
Personally, I have loved the TEFL summer jobs I have had so far: they have been incredible learning experiences, I have made connections which are still strong, and I feel I have improved a lot as a teacher.