Teaching English

Teaching in Summer Schools: an overview, the pros and the cons

August 5, 2013
summer school camp teaching english

If, like me, teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) is how you earn a living, then the chances are that at some point, either in the past, present or future, you have worked, are working or will work in one of the countless English Language summer schools that sweep western Europe. If that’s not the case, then you’ll have almost certainly considered it.

Given the fact that TEFL contracts tend not to last longer than nine months (usually late September through to late June), the summer – particularly its latter stages – is a penny-pinching time of year for EFL teachers. Throw in a summer holiday and a festival or two and there’s even more cause to worry about your finances.

So, unless you’ve another skill set that provides alternative means of work (good for you) or you’re just loaded/really good at saving/able to claim Spanish dole/content to live rent-free with your parents, signing up for one of these summer schools is pretty much unavoidable.

Overview

What?

Summer schools come in different shapes and sizes. Most are owned by large companies who run full-time academies during the rest of the year. In the UK, EF, St. Giles International, Embassy and EnglishUK are some of the best-known, with centres set up across the nation and an intake of thousands of students every year. Each course typically lasts around six to eight weeks and teachers are usually employed for anywhere between four and eight weeks.

The job involves preparing and teaching lessons in the morning five days a week, supervising students during afternoon and evening activities/day-long excursions and occasional meal/bed time duty. All in all, teachers generally work around 40-45 hours per week and receive full-board accommodation.

University funded schools are generally the most expensive for students and most profitable for teachers. I currently work for Hertford College at Oxford University, where I am paid enviably for the job and actual working hours I do, though jobs at the very best academies require adequate experience.

Where?

Anywhere. London, Oxford, Cambridge, Kent, Brighton and Edinburgh are popular breeding grounds for obvious reasons but there are schools in various cities throughout the UK.

Spain, France and Portugal also have a broad range of schools available, usually at more affordable prices given the absence of full language immersion. TECS are a Spanish company based in El Puerto de Santa María, Cadiz, who offer full-time summer courses for kids and teens in the surrounding areas.

Who?

As in who is right for the job. Just because you’re an EFL teacher doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll breeze through summer school. The demand is high, both professionally and physically. In the large companies mentioned above, teachers are hired to teach and be students’ friends, and most importantly, are expected to work well within a team, no matter what school it is.

summer school camp teaching english

Working as a team by singing YMCA very badly

Pros

Personal Development

The obvious selling point of TEFL is having the opportunity to experience and adapt to other cultures. A year of this, be it in Spain or a monastery on a mountain in Tibet, opens your eyes to what it’s really like to interact with natives in another language. So when the shoe is on the other foot, and you’re the native, you have a good idea of what is going through your students’ minds. Through your own learned experiences, you are better equipped to help students adapt to their new environment, and this does wonders for your interpersonal skills and cross-cultural awareness.

Better still, summer schools in the UK offer a whole other dynamic to teaching English because of the multilingual nature of the classrooms. Kids come from all over the world, often alone, so it is often the case that they have no choice but to speak English with their peers. Thus, English is taken beyond the classroom, where the teacher’s role is facilitator, rather than teacher.

summer school camp teaching english

Class of 2011

Professional Development

EFL teachers can easily become stuck in their ways; they are satisfied with the way they teach, their bosses are satisfied with the way things are run and the students are satisfied with the way they learn. Removing yourself from that comfort zone and starting afresh in a different teaching environment, with different input from all angles, really helps improve your teaching skills. People bounce ideas off each other, and everybody is generally very happy to share their efficacious lesson plans. By the end of a course, it’s not uncommon to leave with around 20GB or so worth of material, which will be great to take back with you to your regular job come September.

Touching Base

Life as an EFL teacher for many is fun and adventurous, and this is the picture we paint of it on Facebook for friends back home. We post the good stuff, the awesome days at the beach or a jungle trekking safari etc. For them, this is what we do, with the odd day of work thrown in from time to time.

summer school camp teaching english

We do do that, but there’s a lot more to it than just that isn’t there? I find that sometimes there’s a sense of incomprehension when I go home and meet friends for a drink. Sure, they’re interested and eager to hear your stories, but the idea of what it’s like to live within another culture with a different language is something only truly understood by someone else who has also done it. Summer schools are the perfect places to share this common knowledge, and touch base with people who’re doing what you’re doing, in some other part of the world.

summer school camp teaching english

Teachers ‘touching base’ in the pub

It’s a Chance to Save Money

With almost every residential teaching contract comes either heavily subsidised or full-board accommodation, so you rarely have to pay for your own meals. In fact, you rarely have to pay for anything at all. And if you manage not to go out on the piss with other teachers every night of the week then you might even save a few hundred quid. Just bear in mind that you will be taxed on all that you earn and Student Loans will of course have their share if you ticked the relevant box on the p46 form. I know, bastards!

Free Stuff

Unless you are employed on a teaching only contract, you will most likely be equally as responsible for supervising students on regular field trips. In the UK, this inevitably involves visits to London, Oxford, Cambridge, Windsor, Stratford-upon-Avon and other places of cultural interest. Personally, I’d never visited any of the above except London before I took my first job in summer school. It’s surprisingly refreshing to travel around your own country, and see places that you might not have ever bothered going to if you had to pay to get there.

summer school camp teaching english oxford

Catte Street, Oxford

Cons

Some Students

Emphasis on ‘some’. Most students are lovely, polite and very keen to learn as much English as possible and make the most of their trip. Others are not, and they are easy to spot. It’s generally kids who’re clearly more accustomed to having servants do everything for them. I’ll never forget Alla, who I had been sent to greet at the arrivals lounge at Heathrow. Dressed top to toe in the latest designer garb and joke-sized Gucci sunglasses, she rolled her Chanel suitcase toward me. ‘Welcome to England!’ I exclaimed. She let her suitcase fall flat to the ground, looked at me and then pointed to it. ‘Carry’ she replied.

To be fair, arrogant as she was, I actually found her to be highly amusing, just out of sheer incredulity. There are, however, other students who become the bane of your life, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The Food

By listing this as a con I feel rather like one of the students myself; this is, by far, the most complained about thing at summer school. It’s actually much better than the school dinners of our time, and very balanced as long as you don’t go overboard – but 4-6 weeks subsisting almost entirely on the stuff does take its toll. Spots appear, your belly swells and you fart more. Simple as.

The Hours

The hours are exhausting in the majority of schools. Teaching hours generally take place between 9am and 1-2pm, and then teachers either work for the afternoon or have a break before clocking back in to work in the evening. Fair enough, a lot of this ‘work’ comprises sports, trivia quizzes, ‘crazy games’, movie nights and karaoke, and there is one full day off per week, but there comes a point, usually when you are dressed as a gay zebra at an ‘African animal disco’ (but that’s another story) when you just think ‘I’m not a gay zebra. I’m tired. And I want to go to bed’. But you can’t go to bed because you’re on bedtime duty for the night, and you know that all the Saudi kids are going to keep you up until 2am.

summer school camp teaching english

The Pay

Generally, it is low, but then if you consider the free accommodation and food, it could be worse. In my experience, about £320 per week is average – anything lower than that isn’t worth working for – not if you’re working more than forty hours a week. There are some schools who will pay incredibly well – even up to £450 per week, but the level of expectation here is exceptionally high, and only teachers with a few years’ experience tend to get hired for these positions.

Missed Travelling Opportunities

The summer is a time to travel! And if, like me, you’re a travel fanatic – and let’s face it, who in TEFL isn’t? – you’ll never be able to shake the feeling of knowing you could be somewhere else in the world having yourself an unforgettable adventure. I, for one, am shit at saving money, so I can never afford to travel all summer, but if you are sensible enough with your money then I suppose it’s possible. Either way, the majority of summer schools do tend to close with at least a few weeks to go before term starts again, so there’s always a chance to hit the road in this window. Yay!

summer school camp teaching english

Have you ever worked at an English Language Summer School? Was this article helpful to you? Please leave your comments below 🙂

You Might Also Like

  • Shantaya August 5, 2013 at 9:23 am

    I’ve just finished teaching a week of summer camp in South Korea. It’s sounds similar to your set-up but it’s part of our contract. I’d actually prefer it over regular classes; the kids seemed much more behaved…for the most part. I would love to go to some of the places you mentioned. Maybe I’ll use this method to get there one day 🙂

    • Josh August 5, 2013 at 5:29 pm

      It’s a great way of seeing the UK that’s for sure! Visa restrictions might be an issue though :/ Korea going well?

      • Shantaya August 10, 2013 at 11:41 am

        Hmm, the visas always get in the way… But yes, Korea’s going well! Half-way through the year!

  • Trevor Huxham August 5, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    This is something I’ve been considering doing for next summer, but it would have to be in *Spain* rather than the UK. Have you heard of many folks doing those kind of camps there? And is an ESL certificate necessary to work in one? Thanks for the great, honest post.

    • Josh August 5, 2013 at 5:32 pm

      Cheers Trevor! There are loads of camps in Spain – TECS, who I mentioned above, run various summer courses around Malaga, Cadiz and Jerez. Not sure what their policy is on ESL certification but I used to work for their academy and they look after their staff. Another friend of mine is doing a camp up in Bilbao at the moment. Not heard from her yet but i’ll let you know what she says about it!

  • Marianne August 5, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    Didn’t even know about these camps, Josh, but they sounds like fun – even if they are exhausting. Pretty good pay, too.

    Hope you get the chance to travel for a week or two before you start back in Granada again in September 🙂

    • Josh August 5, 2013 at 5:34 pm

      Ohhh I will! Croatia part deux, followed by Montenegro, Bosnia and Hungary. That’s the plan!

      • Marianne August 5, 2013 at 6:47 pm

        There are some really funky bars in Budapest – look like huge derelict houses:)

  • con jamón spain August 6, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Knew little about TEFL, but do now. Great post.

  • somaye November 4, 2014 at 8:57 am

    Hi Josh
    I found your website very amusing. I teach English and we are trying to change our school from EFL to ESL system. I’m not a native speaker and reading your website I was wondering if my school could provide the same opportunities for the students. Is there any website I could find interested teachers (native English speakers)?
    And how much do you think this could help them?

    • Josh November 7, 2014 at 11:14 am

      Hi Somaye. Have you posted vacancies on tefl.com?

  • Lucy January 20, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    Hi Josh, I found this post really useful! I’m currently teaching kindergarten in Thailand but thinking about coming home to Europe to do summer school. Do you by any chance have any tips of when schools generally start hiring for the summer? Thanks! 🙂

    • Josh January 25, 2015 at 5:15 pm

      Hi Lucy. Schools generally start hiring now! I’d research who you are applying to work for carefully though. Lots of schools take the piss with the hours/pay ratio. Use tefl.com and type in your top criteria to the keyword search bar. That’s how I found the school I work for in Oxford, who are excellent!