Summer school offers new teachers a chance to experiment


KatiB classroom

Courtesy: Kati Begen

Are you a new teacher? If you can, teach summer school! 

No, your district did not pay me to say this; there is a method to my madness. Summer school gets a bad rap. Its portrayal in movies doesn’t help either. It’s not just a sweaty classroom full of students who are defiant and rude. In my experience, these are students who just need to fix the mistakes they made in the school year. Summer school should be seen as an opportunity for students and teachers. Teaching summer school can be an extremely beneficial choice, especially for new teachers. 

When I was a new teacher, I found volunteering to teach summer school provided me unique opportunities to experiment. In summer school, you can:

Play around with instructional strategies: In the world of teaching, there is a visceral fear of your lesson “bombing.” This fear is what often keeps us from trying new things. During summer school, you have a little more grace. Typically, the classes are smaller, students come in with some background knowledge (if it’s credit recovery, they have already taken the class), and summer school just has a different feel to it. Have you wanted to try an A-B text edit (where students have two different copies of the same article and must decide which words are correctly used)? Socratic seminar? Maybe a specific lab? Doodle notes? 

Try it now! Get feedback from the students and see if there is something you need to change. Then, write down notes on how the new strategies fared in the summer school setting. Once the new school year comes around, you have a list of strategies you have vetted and that work. 

Try new classroom management strategies: I have taught primarily in middle and high school. Even though middle and high school students are close in age, they require different management strategies. 

Surprisingly, my high school students love ClassDojo, a classroom management tool/app, despite its typical audience being elementary school students. I wouldn’t have known this if I hadn’t tried it with my summer school students. Do you want to try flexible seating? Fun claps for an attention signal? Student shout-out wall? Try it during summer school.

If you teach secondary school, you only see your students for one period a day during the school year. In summer school, you see the same group of students for the whole day. You now have the advantage that elementary teachers have. You can try a strategy, work out any kinks with it, and implement it in your class come fall. 

Try out a new grade level: When I began teaching, I was fully invested in staying in the middle school world. When the opportunity arose for me to teach a high school class over the summer, I was scared. It seemed like a different beast. Ultimately, I ended up loving teaching high school, and a few years later, I moved up to teaching high school freshmen. This shift wouldn’t have come if I hadn’t tried it out during the summer session. So often, we find our niche and stay there. This is a nice, comfortable place if that is what you are looking for. Sometimes, we want change. Often, we see good teachers leave the profession. I wonder if they might have stayed if they had just tried a different grade level. 

I can’t speak for all school districts, but in my experience, summer school made me a better teacher. There are different opportunities out there as well. Maybe you only teach one session? Can you try a different content area? Different school site or even district? There are even online summer schools. The opportunities are as endless as is the potential growth you can acquire. 

Teaching can be extremely difficult, so try something new to bring the spark back into your career!

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Kati Begen is a high school biology teacher, doctoral candidate and author of “Thriving During Your First Year of Teaching.”

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