I remember my first summer school (Taunton 2013, six weeks) and paraphrasing Lana del Rey’s Summertime sadness into summerschool madness – we should’ve made a staff choir, come to think of it. Being a DoS, however, means working full time, so I can’t go and join my friends working with various summer schools, but a friend of mine is joining a summer school in England for the very first time and asked me to write some tips for summer school virgins. Here we go, then – if I managed to survive, so will you!
1 Don’t panic! and choose a proper school
The most important thing is to pick a good school, where not only students but also teachers are well taken care of. You will need materials, resource books and a good DoS (or ADoS) to help you through. Apart from reading opinions on the Internet check whether the school has British Council Accreditation – you want to make sure your future workplace is a good school. British Council does inspections to make sure those schools have proper standards, so picking an accredited centre would be my priority.
2 Pack your things sensibly
Surprise – you’re not going to the end of the world, even if you travel from the continent! You’ll probably be able to buy most of the things you need on the spot, but if you have your favourite cosmetics – take them with you as the brand may be unavailable in the UK. Remember to take an adapter if you need it. I’d recommend taking an e-reader, no need to take books (though I’d invest in 700 Classroom Activities, my favourite teaching tool ever). You will be sent a vademecum from your school, so pay attention to dress code, but also remember you’ll probably go on school trips, so make sure you’ve got some suitable clothes. And shoes.
3 The Internet
Well, this might be a tricky point – you will probably be located in a normal school and the Internet protection in the UK is much higher than in most EU countries, so you may get a nasty surprise when your news page turns out to be blocked (possible nudity). I’ve encountered a school blocking google, so yeah, things may be fun. If you want to avoid it, simply buy a UK phone number with a good data package. My friend recommends getting a Giff Gaff, as you can order your SIM card to your country and actually have it before you go to the UK. However, what surprised me was how many hotspots in a city can be out of reach, compared to Poland.
Oh, and the only browser on school computers was IE, so… remember, remarks about poor technological development of the country may be considered rude.
4 The Madness
Had anyone told me this before I joined LAL I’d probably smile, but here it is: summer school is madness. You live in a bubble of contained space and extremely intensive time with pretty much the same people, there has to be tension, you can’t escape it. The good things will be beyond perfection, the bad things will create drama (honestly, you will see adult people cry) – you need to realise that there will be simple events intensified to the level you’ve forgotten since you left your boarding school. There will be adult people behaving like teenagers (and teenagers behaving like teenagers, so at least that will be normal) and there’s nothing wrong with it. Being a summer school teacher is not a summer chill, you will have more responsibilities than just teaching… and, something you’ll probably never get used to, the rest of the staff will not understand how serious business teaching is. This may be one of those things that create tension, but, as I say, it is absolutely understandable in summerschool madness.
5 Other teachers
This is probably the best aspect of a summer school – your colleagues. You will meet so many people from various environments, you’ll have so much time to discuss teaching methods, compare your ideas and learn new things. And due to the Madness, you’ll make a special bond with these people (sometimes known as We Survived attitude) that will last longer than the summer. I have made real friendships and I am really grateful to my LAL mates for suffering my recalcitrant self. Kudos!
Right, there will be students, probably from various countries and this is both wonderful and somewhat scary. You will have a lot of cross cultural issues to learn, remember, explain etc. You probably will develop some weird kind of preference (I really liked working with Russians and Germans, especially a certain magical group in 2014), and there will be students you won’t ever forget (again, the Madness, you will see those kids everyday and they will be far-away-from-home teenagers, sometimes they will look up to the only authority they know – a teacher, just be sure to listen to them, they are bound to have their dramas and there will be no parents to help). When it comes to teaching – it is summer school, after all, so leave that copy of grammar drills and go for full fun and communication!
It was the summer school experience that taught me British food can be actually delicious. Only during British summer could I eat crisps with vinegar and actually enjoy it, but as I usually picked Taunton in Somerset (adorable place and lovely local people!), I discovered proper cheddar (something I couldn’t get in Ireland, sorry Dublin) and Blue Stilton which is one of my guilty pleasures. But there was clotted cream and Thatchers Gold… and they have cider festival in Somerset which means I always came back home heavier than I left.
You will either love it or hate it, it is an experience so intensive it will leave you drained and in need of another holidays. You will meet a lot of people, some of them will make you a better person and some of them will make you see red. If you are single, you might as well finish summer school in a relationship. But it is one of the most educational periods of time, not only from a professional point of view, but also personally. Is there any piece of advice? Sure:
Keep your eyes open and let your horizons broaden. Don’t be petty. Laugh whenever you can. Make friends. Learn. Curse hot and cold taps only when nobody hears you.