Well, as the dreadful summer school season is swiftly marching towards us, I thought I'd dig out a few of my old 'dissertations' on the unfortunate subject, and present a sort of thematic approach to the coming few weeks' blogs on The TEFL Tradesman. Skillful, ain't I?
Have you ever done a Summer School? No? That's excellent. Best try and keep things that way, actually. Having volunteered for many (far too many!) summer-time incarcerations in the past, I am very probably the least enthusiastic about the whole charade, as I know what working on a summer school really involves. After all, I did about a dozen of them in the 1990s, before the proverbial penny dropped. So, never mind the crap entreaties to ‘join in the summer fun’, and such tosh, which you can read on tefl.com these days – the reality is utterly different. Let me provide you with a few examples, served up, with no apparent relish, from my bitter memories…
If you’re a virtual novice teacher, with a Celta and say a year or two’s experience in taming teenagers in Mediterranean classrooms, you can expect to earn around 200 quid a week, after you’ve paid your tax and National Insurance. On top of this you’ll be provided with free accommodation and meals, although not all schools guarantee this. This might sound like a lot of money if you’ve been earning peanuts in Poland, but on the UK salary scale it’s probably about the same as you’d get doing a McJob – or washing cars at your local Tesco car-park.
The real downside is, of course, the hours you’ll be expected to put in – around 12 or 14 a day, for six days a week. In other words, your 200 quid works out at around three quid an hour for your six-day sentence! You do get a little time off for good behaviour, though - the nightmare of the weekly excursion, where you, a 'responsible adult' have to escort groups of spoilt foreign teenage brats to castles and museums,, and listen to them moaning about how expensive and crap the souvenirs are, they can’t find the toilets, and 'Teacher, I feel sick..." on the coach.
A typical day (although there never is a ‘typical day’, really) could involve struggling to get the kids up around 7:00, and making sure they’re dressed, breakfasted and ready for class at 9:00. This might sound like a relatively unformidable task, but don't forget it does involve finding the delightful buggers in the first place, as many will have 'travelled' during the night to a neighbour's bed or floor. On top of that, you have to ensure they're not still wanking, putting on the right clothes, and all manner of things that they manage to find extremely difficult now they're in a foreign country. Somehow, at the same time, you have to remember to get your own breakfast too, and attend a morning meeting before classes begin, with your DoS, who is probably a survivor from the previous year’s course - perhaps the only one, in fact.
She or he will take great pleasure in giving you the worst possible classroom combination of teenage angst and ebullient hormones to manage. Even worse, as a non-teaching DoS (which doesn’t necessarily mean he/she can’t teach, but might well) your unpleasant boss will be swilling cheap coffee and working off a hangover in the morning while you’re trying to keep vicious Vladimir from attacking gentle Julio, whilst at the same time making sure romantic Mario doesn’t try to shaft pretty Paula in the mid-morning break.
Then, after three hours of quite pointless classroom games, exercises and activities, you’ll be expected to escort your charges to the dining hall and watch over them whilst they chuck the revolting English food at each other. This is all on a typical day, remember. On the atypical ones, you’ll be expected to wipe up their puke after they’ve delivered a gastronomic thumbs down on the British pie and chips; and later you'll probably be expected to keep them from escaping off the site, or you may even have to chain Sergei the Russian anarchist (or shoplifter/brains behind the school's chocolate ice-cream racket) to a litter bin until the police arrive.
It gets better, though. In the afternoons you get to don the company t-shirt, perhaps even a clean one, and – hey presto! – you’re transformed into a sports and activities supervisor. Now you’re expected to entertain them with games of rounders and sack races, keeping them from smoking too much grass at the same time, and generally make sure they’re too shagged out to want to do anything else (especially shagging) after dinner.
As if that wasn’t enough, in the evenings you become a Butlins Redcoat and run the entertainment programme. You name it, you’ll be doing it – bingo caller, quiz master, DJ; or any combination of all three. Of course, you might be lucky and get posted on video duty, which means you’ll only have to endure a couple of hours of adolescent films and teenage farting, plus supervise some heavy petting in the back row behind the sofas.
And then, just as you thought you were about to slope off up the stairs to Bedfordshire, your Course Director reminds you that you’re on ‘put-down duty’. Much as you might like to put some of the loathsome miscreants down for good, with a sharp jab from a vet’s syringe, this actually means you have to make sure the boys stay in their beds and do not scamp across the playing fields for a midnight rendezvous with the opposite sex on the cricket square.
Finally, some time after midnight, as some of your colleagues are coming back from the pub and rowdily chanting racist football songs, you get to take that slither of valium and fall into a sweet, dreamy oblivion - for about six hours or so. Then it’s up again at seven to repeat the whole pointless fiasco, just to keep some rich kids amused for a couple of weeks or so.
You get the picture? And as for those crackpot colleagues, well – that’ll take another posting, perhaps next week.
By the way, if you do decide to do a summer school this year, just don’t say you weren’t warned, OK?
First Published: Friday, 15 April 2005