When teachers are presented with the option or requirement to teach summer school, many may automatically think of that sweet, sweet extra paycheck. However, when gearing up to teach a summer session, there are a lot more benefits to the job than just the financial one. I’ve been teaching summer school every summer since I started my first full time teaching job, and I’ve grown to love it! After reflecting on my experiences from teaching summer school, here are a few of my biggest takeaways:
Summer school is an opportunity to collaborate with new professionals outside of your home school community.
Over the past three summers, I’ve had the opportunity to work with district colleagues from a variety of teaching backgrounds and grade levels. In the short time that we worked alongside one another, we shared our wisdom, insights, and stories that come with working with our designated age groups or particular school sites. This unique setting also allows for the easy flow and sharing of ideas and resources amongst a newly formed group of educators. Take advantage of this! You might just stumble upon something that will serve you well in your classroom next year.
Not only is summer school an opportunity to develop new professional relationships, but also personal ones. In teaching, authentic relationships are critical to not only our work with students, but also adults, specifically the people that we see, interact, and work with all day every day. Although the summer session is a lot shorter than the regular school year, it can definitely feel like a high-intensity boot camp workout! Take some time to slow it down and get to know your new colleagues on a personal level, even if it’s just asking about their families or summer plans. Enacting kindness and care resonates with others and naturally enhances a sense of community.
Summer school can also provide an opportunity for you to serve as a mentor/mentee to another teacher in training or student volunteer. In his 2017 TED Talk, TED Fellow, Karim Abouelnaga, talks about how his New York City-based K-8 summer program is doing this important work — creating an educational environment in which both students and future educators are able to grow, learn, and thrive.
In our district, teachers who are completing their credential programs are often recruited to teach a summer session, which enables them to fulfill practicum requirements while working. At some point, we’ve all been that student teacher, and the teacher mentors we remember are those that offered support and helped us trouble-shoot the tough times we encountered when first taking charge of a classroom. You might not have all the answers for them (none of us really do), but sharing the knowledge that you do possess might prove to be invaluable to your new colleague who is just entering the field of teaching.
Try teaching something outside of your wheelhouse.
Research shows that there are demonstrable beneficial outcomes to student learning across summer learning programs in general, representing a variety of approaches and concentrations. All of the students who attend summer school, voluntarily or by assignment, are preparing for the next school year and are likely to be in the process of transitioning to the next grade level. In our district, summer school includes small group remediation courses and a range of enrichment programs. The remediation courses are incredibly important, and the teachers who take on these positions play a pivotal role in helping students practice and develop skills that will be needed in the next year. The support, patience, and attention you offer by teaching these courses could truly help these struggling students thrive!
Some districts are able to offer enrichment courses, for which attendance is not required, but gives students a chance to partake in unique and specialized learning environments. Have you been itching to teach something outside of the standard grade level curriculum, like robotics, art, or engineering? Enrichment courses grant teachers the freedom to explore a variety of topics, experiment with approaches to engage students, and take hold of the curricular reigns!
In summer school, you could stick close to your home base by teaching the incoming or outgoing age group for your current grade level, or take an opportunity to test out teaching a different grade level. Maybe you are at a point in your career where you are considering making a switch. Summer school might be your chance to test drive working with a grade that you are interested in pursuing in the future. The last few summers, I have taught the incoming kindergarten students, prepping them as much as possible for the expectations they will face in the fall, along with providing time for them to grow and develop socially and emotionally with a new group of peers. This past summer session, I worked alongside a middle school core teacher, both of us teaching separate classes of incoming kindergarten students. I admire her bravery for trying something so new!
Reset your frame of mind for the new school year.
Although summer school is short, just like at the beginning of every new school year, you need to set up the routines and expectations for your classroom when meeting a new group of students. As an early elementary educator, I have come to understand the importance of developing and implementing regular classroom routines and behavior management strategies. Teaching summer school could be especially rewarding if you experienced a rough school year and have been thinking about modifying or changing your current approach. Take this opportunity to try out new behavior management plans; or practice and refine the strategies you use every year. A new group of students might bring to light something about how you teach and offer you a chance to adapt. It is important to remember that when teaching a fresh group of students to take a step back and practice some serious patience! Think back to the beginning of any school year… when you introduce new things to students — be it routines, rules, or curricular content — they usually need a little more time to adjust to the newness of everything.
Stretch and strengthen your practice.
Summer school administration might not require the same level of adherence to the strict curricular confines you experience during the regular school year. Take advantage of this!
Since you have such a limited amount of time with these students in your summer school class, really pay attention to your practice. Maybe you want to take a closer look at how you develop relationships with your students. Explore ways to really reach them through their interests, ideas, and aspirations. Focus on that thing that you may want to reevaluate or refine within your practice and step out of your comfort zone. As educators, this is how we grow!
Be flexible to adapt and modify aspects of instruction according to the specific needs of your present group of students. Don’t push to cram in absolutely everything that you originally planned, especially if your particular group of students are not ready for it. Just like you, your students deserve to enjoy their summer. By pumping the breaks and really focusing on the unique needs of your summer group, the whole classroom community benefits.
Ultimately, remember to trust yourself and your practice. Summer school might be a short term teaching experience, but it can open doors to a variety of opportunities for exploration, collaboration, and growth as an educator.