Experiences of an English Language Teacher

Surviving The Summer School

Surviving A Summer SchoolYou have completed your CELTA course and you are now on a mission to start teaching.  In all likeliness, most trainees from the CELTA will start their career as a young learner teacher – whether in the UK or abroad.  When I returned from South Korea, back to the UK, I was thrust into a new teaching environment and I felt very much inexperienced again – as if I had completed the CELTA a few weeks previously.  To be thrown back into the deep end was incredibly challenging and was also such a wonderful experience.  For those that have completed their CELTA course or those that would like to teach during the summer, there are ten points to help you survive the busiest period in the EFL industry in the UK known as the “Summer School”.

1. Be Friendly

The first piece of advice I would recommend any would-be summer school teacher is to be friendly to all staff, and I don’t just mean the teaching staff.  There are a lot of roles at work at the school during the summer period and it helps if you can get on well with all members of staff – the social staff who take the students out, the administration department who help with everything behind the scenes, the management who really bust a gut to provide a quality experience for the students as well as the accounts department who pay you.  It is so important to build a good working relationship to all members of staff, co-workers and line managers, if you are to be considered for the following year.

2. Time Keeping

You are employed to teach as well as prepare lessons for your classes.  Please do not stroll in 2 minutes before you are due to teach and then pop in and out of your classroom back to the staffroom when you haven’t photocopied enough worksheets for your class.  It just looks unprofessional in front of your peers and students.  If you turn up to school on time, everything else will fall into place – lesson planning, observations, etc.  If you are a residential teacher at a summer school, you will find the experience of being onsite at the school for 24 hours a day challenging and you will have more responsibilities once other non-residential teachers have returned home.  If you plan your time well, you will find yourself having more time to switch off, rather than chasing your tail.

3. Continuing Professional Development

I cannot stress enough the importance of continuing professional development (CPD) in your teaching career.  If you put in the effort to attend regional ELT-related workshops or training days, you will return to your class with so many more ideas to incorporate.  You will be able to meet other like-minded individuals at these events and you will also be able to share your experiences with them as well.  ELT is a wonderful profession but you will start to make good contacts at other schools and perhaps discover future opportunities.  Try to attend workshops which will assist you during the summer school period.  There are many locally organised teaching associations so just check with your Director of Studies for more information and whether you are able to attend any workshops or training sessions.

4. Don’t Get Stressed

We have all taught students who make our lessons, well how can I put it … less interesting but do not beat yourself up over a few rotten eggs in class.  You have a difficult task ahead – you have to motivate and engage young learners who have been sent to the UK possibly with no interest in English and then thrown into a class who then meet other similar students.  This sort of situation could breed problems for language teachers.  It is not easy but the best piece of advice I would recommend is not to worry for how students are in the classroom.  You cannot work miracles.  Speak to other teachers, share your experiences (don’t feel as if it makes you any weaker as a teacher) and seek advice from management.  Perhaps a little suggested change incorporated in the classroom could work wonders.

5. Consider Your Weaknesses

You are expected to teach Monday to Friday but take ten minutes out after class to reflect and consider what worked well and how you could improve for next time.  A little bit of reflection works wonders and as teachers it is invaluable for us to consider our weaknesses.  For example, a number of years ago I was very worried about incorporating the Phonemic Chart in the classroom.  I tried very hard to improve my knowledge of this chart.  As recommended in number three, I attended a weekend workshop organised by a local language school and saw Underhill showing how the phonemic chart could be used in the classroom.  This motivated me and developed my confidence of the phonemic chart in the classroom.  If you show a keen interest in developing yourself as a teacher, you will be noticed and possibly find yourself being asked to return the following year.

6. Share Your Future Plans

English Language Teaching (ELT) in the UK can be a turbulent affair with demand for teachers rising and dipping from week to week depending on the number of students that are attending.  This sort of uncertainty creates for a stressful environment for some teachers.  However, schools will be keen to hear your plans after the Summer School.   Try to be honest and share your plans for the future in ELT.  If you are keen to continue teaching in the UK, tell the school that you would like to gain more experience after the Summer School.  If you are likely to head back out to another country after the summer, it might be likely that the school that you are working at could provide some assistance in securing employment abroad, either in the form as a reference or knowing a contact in another country.

7. Switch Off

You have taught a full-day and you are now planning your lessons for the following day.  Remember not to over-plan!  If you are spending about 3 hours to plan a 45 minute lesson, it is probably best to switch off, turn on the TV and grab a beer or a glass of wine.  As much as it is important to attend workshops or training sessions out of normal working hours, it is also important to get time to relax and switch off.  If you relax, you will sleep better and return to the classroom feeling refreshed and energetic.  Make sure you get some ‘me’ time and that teaching does not take over your life.

8. Recycle Lessons

You might be teaching a different group of learners each week.  If your school does not have a set curriculum, you could look at developing your own curriculum for the summer.  Keep a folder of daily lesson activities/tasks which you could return to each week.  We all have our favourite lesson(s) which we like to incorporate into different classes.  It then makes sense to build up your own library of lessons which you could dip in and out of, then recycle with different classes each week.  Make your life easier by recycling popular lessons with new groups of students rather than reinventing the wheel.  Soon you will find yourself developing and trailing lessons with new groups each week.  Plus, recycling lessons will help you save much needed time for lesson planning.  However, try to not incorporate a hodge pot of lessons in a day moving from one topic to another.  This will destabilise the day of classes and young learners need familiarity and the best way to include this is set a topic per day and then incorporate your best lessons for these topics.

9. Flashcards

If you are teaching young learners, it is incredibly important to include flashcards in your lessons when introducing and developing vocabulary in the first part of your lessons.  I have not seen flashcards used enough in lessons and not every school will hold a library of flashcards or other materials so it is important to keep a stock of your own.  You can make these in the staffroom which could then be laminated so that they to do not wear and can be recycled for future classes.  There are a number of websites which you could consider viewing, such as the British Council or Cambridge English Online, to create and print out possible flashcards.

10. Know Your Students

Finally, in all likelihood, you will be teaching a different group of students each week at a Summer School, but it is also important to get to know these students as they may return again the following year.  I have bumped into returnee students who were studying at our school and they do not forget their teacher.  So, get to know your students, prepare lessons on their interests and help them get through the week.  They will appreciate having a teacher who considers them more than another student in the classroom.  Remain positive with the students and they will thank you for it when they are to leave.  At the end of the day, the experiences you have at the school in the summer, with your students, will make such a positive impact on you.


  1. Matthew

    Reblogged this on Diary of a Newbie CELTA Trainer and commented:
    Sensible advice for CELTA grads from Sketchly

  2. Mike

    Thanks for putting this together! I’ll be starting teaching English in Spain this fall, so this will undoubtedly come in handy.

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