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Protecting your mental health throughout Summer School Teaching

Protecting your mental health throughout Summer School Teaching

11th June 2024
By Sarah Taylor.

Seasoned summer school teacher Sarah Taylor offers a wealth of wellbeing hints for an optimum summer school experience.

It’s that time of year, a heady June, in which summer contracts start to arrive and EFL teachers get ready for their annual summer school across the UK, and beyond. With English summer schools being an extremely popular and busy time of year, and for many, the most prosperous annual work assignment for EFL Teachers, it can also be extremely demanding both mentally and physically.  

As a teacher about to commence my fourth summer school, my third in the UK, I like to think I have nearly mastered the art of self-care, that is being able to provide a tip-top learning experience for the students, whilst being a strong team player and taking care of my own wellbeing. However, it wasn’t always this way, and took a lot of learning in the process to do so! It’s easy to want to be the best teacher you can be, and leave a great impression, but remember you are important too! 

Summer school hours can be long and arduous, with many extra duties alongside your teaching. It can be particularly tough, for example, on a ‘wake-up’ day where you are responsible for getting your students up, ready for breakfast and beyond. Add that to the normal days teaching, planning, marking and any ad hoc duties and a day can sometimes seem like two! 

There is a multitude of things that can happen from a first aid incident to having to cover a class, and it can seem overwhelming. A great activity to do here is ‘pacing’ which, is to see your activities and tasks as slots, which you can tick off as each slot goes by, for example. Divide a 10-hour day into 2-hour slots, and they soon decrease. It’s great to see your tasks ticked and slowly going down, plus the sense of achievement as they go by. 

Look out for general quiet times in the day, where you can get some essential you time. For a colleague she had half an hour in her classroom to connect with herself before lunch, to journal and gather her thoughts, for me it was around 7pm when students were eating and were in the capable hands of activity leaders. Here I’d take advantage of the great sports facilities offered at my site.

Find out in induction what resources are available and arrange with yourself or a colleague 2 slots a week where you can burn off any energy, frustrations or just get a hit of endorphins to spur you on. Many sites offer all kinds of facilities, better than the ones in my home city, and me, I can’t wait for some novice tennis this year! 

It’s a great advantage that accompanies many summer schools, and that is you are offered inclusive catering with your package. There is no excuse for not eating good nutritious food. I also find that I’m less inclined to miss meals as I don’t have to cook! No blood sugar crashes, a calm mood and I can concentrate fully on my role. It’s a win-win situation!

Schools always cater for a variety of different allergies and food preferences too due to the sheer diversity of nationalities, so you should always be able to get what you need. If anything, the Summer can be a chance to improve your health as you are so active and involved, so make the best of the non-sedentary time! And remember, you can never have enough water! 

It’s an often-used cliche that I’m not too keen on, but it couldn’t be more relevant here. Work smarter, not harder! I’ve a portfolio of lessons that have worked well for me in the past ranging from A2 to advanced essay writing skills. Obviously with each year the syllabus varies but it's great to have a folder you can always rely on for various situations.

Don’t be shy to use your team too, ask for ideas and make the best use of the development workshops in your CPD sessions. This, combined with whatever sparkly syllabus you will be using will keep you grounded, organised, and prepared. Being a naturally creative person, I used to think being organised was the destroyer of creativity, but in fact, it creates a container for it, so I know where it all is, and I can let it run free out of the bag when I know there is structure behind it! 

Another great wellbeing tip I’ve learned is to be aware of your personality style. It takes many to make a team work, and your idiosyncrasies are what make you beautiful! Extrovert or introvert, those who like to lead or those who are blessed with empathy, there is always a way to bring out the best in yourself. A close colleague of mine is extremely introverted and needs time to himself to reenergise, and I always admired his ability to spot when he needed this, and that he was able to resist peer pressure and not feel forced to socialise. 

On the contrary my manager last year is an absolute ‘people person’, she loves company and divided herself evenly to do tasks with a different staff member each night. Summer school can be a wonderful way to meet new people from all over the world, and you may make friends for life, but if you prefer private down time in the evening to recharge, then absolutely honour that, and you won’t be bending yourself out of your natural shape and feeling exhausted. 

It is inevitable in any situation that you meet people you like, or ‘click’ with and likewise it is also usual to not click or just not ‘get’ someone. From school, University and through working life, managing relationships is so important when it comes to work and emotional success, and it’s no different here, except the environment is more intense given the workload and timescales.

What’s really helped me in the past if I have become irritated or found a member of staff to be difficult, is to rethink, and reframe. Remember tiredness and pressure can cause us to see things in a more negative way, and we may also be projecting some of our own things we don’t like about ourselves onto that person unknowingly. Take a breath, pause, and ask yourself:  

“Will I still feel the same way in the morning?” 

 Try to enjoy the experience as it is such a unique one, and you are getting the chance to inspire and encourage young people’s futures. You are a leader, step up and show how it is done! Bridges are far more beautiful constructed than burned! Meeting someone who does things very differently from you can also be a great chance to learn, and likewise, you can inspire them too. Your weaknesses can be consolidated by other people's strengths, and vice versa. 

Work hard and sleep well! Make sure you are getting adequate sleep and use any sleep aids that may help you. I lost count of the number of times my essential oils were borrowed last year, but absolutely nothing beats a deep sleep and restoration. Getting two decent sleep cycles helps you restore at a cellular level and helps eradicate sleep debt.

If you’re a light sleeper and there is noise, ask to be moved to ensure the best chance of decent R and R, and the world will seem a brighter place! On summer school, good sleep is like a bag of gold! I always take one of my own pillows as it seems to ‘know me’ and for some reason always helps, whatever works for you! 

Finally, if things do seem to be getting too hard for you, let your welfare team know your needs. Every summer school I have been on has stressed the importance of wellbeing on induction, and if you need a private chat and advice, there is always the welfare officer to speak to. You know your limits and it’s important to not override this is if you really are struggling. Support is always there. 

Working on summer school is something I am always exceptionally proud of, not just because I get to deliver first class teaching to so many inspiring people, but because, as rewarding as it is, it is also really hard work. It’s challenging, it pushes you outside of your comfort zone and there are moments when the workload sets in, there’s 20 lessons to plan, a first aid incident to attend, and an airport transfer to do, and you think ‘I can’t do this’. 

 You can. slow down, take your time, and think of the incredible sense of achievement you will feel when it’s all over. You will miss it before you know it, and you will be raring to do it all over again next year, more experienced, wiser, and hopefully with a promotion! 

Sarah Taylor

Sarah Taylor is a freelance writer and teacher from East Yorkshire, and has been teaching for 12 years, dividing her time between the UK and Italy. She is currently working on her first book, a travel guide for Sicily.  

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