By Andrew Hawk
For most students in America, summer is a season for vacationing and taking a break from school. Unfortunately, a small percentage of students spend part of their summer working on academic tasks. Sometimes these students are in summer school for lacking a sense of urgency during the school year. However, more often than not, students who attend summer school are struggling learners who cannot afford a long break from academic activities because the resulting regression will impact their progress.
My first job as a licensed teacher was teaching summer school. During my time as a teacher, I have never taken a summer off. I have taught at a residential care facility, taught in Extended School Year (ESY) programs, helped run a theater day camp, and, of course, taught general summer school for struggling readers. Teaching summer school offers educators a chance to work with new students and try new teaching techniques with a smaller group. Here are some tips that will help you make summer school a success.
Empathize with Your Students
I hope you do this during the school year, too, but summer school is a little different story. Most students view summer school as a punishment. They know that not all students are attending summer school and often think their required attendance is unfair. Recognize this and help them move past it. I have taught ages five through eighteen during the summer. No matter students’ age, I start off by telling my group how happy I am to have the chance to teach them. I follow this up by telling students that I understand they may not feel the same, but I hope that by the end of our time together, they will have enjoyed some of the activities we completed. Telling students that they are in summer school due to their actions is really unnecessary. Even if it is a true statement, there is no reason to say this to a student. If you hear students complaining about summer school, keep your responses positive. Focus on how you enjoy students’ company and the fun learning opportunities you are going to provide them.
Try Some New Strategies
Obviously it is important to teach content-rich lessons during the school year. However, when summer rolls around, teachers need to push their lesson-planning game to a new level. Now is not the time to use recycled lessons and punishment to motivate students into paying attention. Trust me, it is a lot easier to show students something they have not seen before and draw them into a lesson. Summer is a great time to try some new ideas. You might find strategies you like and begin to use these strategies during the regular school year.
Relax a Little
I am sure you have heard before that learning does not take place without effective classroom management. I agree that this is true, but during the summer, I try to keep things a little more relaxed. I usually do not give consequences during summer school. Smaller group size and fun teaching strategies help eliminate that need.
Offer Some Sort of Reward
I am not suggesting that you buy your students presents per se, but I believe in offering tangible rewards during summer school. I had a colleague three summers ago who talked our local pool into donating free single-use pool passes for our groups. Last year, the teacher who taught next to me incorporated a group reward with a fun management system. She brought in a box of brownie mix. Each day her group displayed appropriate behavior, she used a little scoop to scoop some mix into a container. When the container was full, she baked brownies and brought them in for her students. Usually I give students candy, but I am considering trying the brownie idea this year. The cornerstone of being an effective teacher is borrowing ideas from others.
Use Time Wisely
In the summer, class time is usually limited to half a school day or less. This being so, there is not a minute to spare in your lesson planning. When implementing lesson plans, try to be as exact as possible. If students need material differentiated or require one-on-one assistance, be sure to include extra time in your lesson plans.
Collaborate with Peers
Unlike during the regular school year, during summer school you do not have much time to get to know your students. Get a head start by reaching out to teachers who taught your summer school students during the regular school year. These teachers should be able to offer you some valuable insights about how to meet the needs of your new students. Additionally, you must review IEPs and any other education-related documents you have at your disposal.
Reach Out to Parents
Summer school is often short. I have taught sessions that lasted only three weeks. For this reason, teachers sometimes skip over the important step of making positive contact with parents. I recommend a brief phone conversation within the first day or two of your summer session. In addition to gaining support at home, you may be able to head off some issues before they escalate. For example, one year I called a mother who believed her son was being retained at the end of summer school. She was stewing on the issue while she decided what she would say to our administrator. My phone call to her lasted only a few minutes, but I was able to reassure her that her son was not going to be retained.
Take Things Outside
Good weather should not be wasted. If your content material can be taught outside, I say move things outside. Be sure to quickly review behavior expectations with your students first. If students can maintain appropriate behavior, teaching outside makes the day a little more enjoyable for everyone.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for sixteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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