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Teaching Summer School: 12 Survivor Tips

Stephanie Wrobleski

12 Tips for Surviving Summer School

As the school year winds to an end (some of you may already be done for the year!), we look to what lies ahead during the next couple of months. Some teachers will take the summer off from formal work, others will work on next year’s curriculum, or take up a summer job.

For me, the summer months mean teaching summer school.

Many of my colleagues wonder why I would want to “torture” myself with more class, more school, and more students. Why don’t you want to take a break - do something different? Yet, teaching is what I do and have done for the past sixteen years. While I wouldn’t say it is easy, I would say that it is natural. I have made summer school my summer job for over five years, and I have developed a pretty good plan that makes the time meaningful, for both myself and my students.

Whether you are a summer school rookie or a veteran, here are a few good tips for surviving summer school:

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Stay Positive

It might be easy to think that students enrolled in summer school will be disinterested troublemakers. I have actually found the opposite to be true. With a little care, even the most otherwise troublesome students can be pleasant.

Not only do I teach the content, but I also strive to inspire good learning habits and self esteem in students that I hope will spill over into the next school year.

Plan a Focused Summer Curriculum

Take some time to decide your learning outcomes for the summer. Don’t try to cram in the entire year’s curriculum into a few short weeks. For example, pick the most important two or three units, one or two novels, or the major concepts and teach them thoroughly.

Organize Materials in Advance

Summer school usually feels fast and furious to me. In order not to miss anything I want to teach, I organize my materials ahead of time. I have used two different systems for organizing summer school, both of which work very well.

  • One idea is to create a folder for each day of summer school. Place handouts for each day in the folders.
  • Another organizational tool that is my favorite: the three ring binder. Using numbered dividers, I organized my lessons/notes/handouts by day within the binder. You can even use the same concept in a paperless environment by creating one file folder for each day. If you decide to continue teaching summer school in the years ahead, most of the work will already be done.

Keep It Simple

Teaching summer school doesn’t mean you have to overwhelm yourself with grading numerous assignments and complicated projects. Try using participation as a main source of grading with a few manageable written assignments that are due periodically. Also, don’t underestimate the value of a good discussion.

Make It Meaningful & Interesting

Keep your clientele in mind. The students you teach in summer school may not be motivated or may lack important skills. Don’t undermine students’ chance to learn with busy-work.

Think about what present-day connections you could make that would spark interest. Another good rule of thumb is to try the assignment yourself. If you find it boring, tedious or difficult, so will students.

Set the Tone

Although the atmosphere for summer school may be more informal, it is a good idea to make sure students understand that there is work to be done, and that they have only a few weeks to make up for a year’s worth of learning.

Be sure to check if your school has a student handbook for summer school. Then, put together a course outline with expectations, consequences, and other policies that will create a well-organized learning community.

Get to Know Your Students

I begin the summer with questions. I ask students to write me a confidential letter about themselves and include answers to questions like:  

  • Why do you think you are here?
  • What are your academic strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your interests outside of school?
  • What are your academic goals?
  • What should I know about you as a learner and a person?

You’ll be surprised what students share if given the opportunity.

Be Flexible

While it is important to set expectations, it is also important to remember that life happens. While I wouldn’t excuse a student for going on vacation during summer school because we have a strict attendance policy where I work, there are times for exceptions. For example, a family or personal illness might warrant a day at home. However, I am sure to make arrangements for the student to make up the work or to even get it in on time via email, if possible.

Hold the Homework

If your school’s policy allows it, skip the homework. Instead, use it as a bargaining tool. I tell students that if we stay focused and complete the work we need to in our two-hour class period, then there is no need for homework.

Encourage Group Work

Summer school classes are often smaller groups, which works well with cooperative learning. Create writing groups, reading partners or research buddies. Make all students accountable by collecting a random sample to represent the group. Rotate through the group members in order to collect from each group member at least once.

Make Use of Community Resources

If your school allows, venture outside the classroom. Maybe this simply means reading or journaling outside, or using your school’s campus setting to teach science or history. If you’re lucky, maybe it means a trip to a local museum or the public library.

Keep Parents in the Loop

Don’t assume that the students enrolled in summer school all have parents who don’t care. Collect email addresses or use phone calls to update parents about positive and negative progress. Consider sending home written updates of positive progress.

Now you tell us: what tips do you have for teaching summer school?  Share your ideas in the comments section, below.