Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
A site that opened without a single Returner would be quite the shiver and nightmare maker. When I first did Centre Director I relied heavily on the two I had. But Returners can also shaft you as they have worked under people that knew what they were doing. Any sign of weakness and they’ll peck your eyes out. Lead even when you don’t know what you’re doing but get their help for all the details. Next year, you’ll be a Returner and you can watch others walk the wire.
A relatively inconsequential part of my daily life is opening and closing the safe twenty thousand times a day. Until it gets stuck, wedged closed on an envelope or cash bag. Or the battery pack powering the combination runs out and I can’t find the external battery pack that will jump start it. Or I have the external battery pack but the metal bit has warped in the heat – yes, heat in England! – and I still can’t open it.
I’m surprised this actual event, lived far more times than I can remember, doesn’t form part of my Summer School anxiety dreams.
Hiring the right people is the deciding factor in the success of a Summer School. In neatly distilled form over such a short time, there’s no hiding weak links or misfits and every opportunity for people to shine. Since we started running Employee of the Week, I’m happy to say it’s been difficult to choose each time because most people go the extra mile every day.
I think it’s hiring the right people, the infrastructure and the induction that make Bede’s the best Summer School I’ve worked for and 5th best in the country, according to EL Gazette’s compilation of British Council points of strength. Apply in January and save yourself the last minute scramble for some cowboy school by the seaside.
If you’ve got 15 students arriving on four different flights at three different terminals but two of them get stuck in immigration and one has lost their luggage, what’s the best thing to do?
If two of those students have brought enough luggage for a family each and the taxi you’ve booked is too small, what then?
If you’ve got 30 odd flights coming in between 5:25 and 20:45, not quite enough staff to send a person for each job and no staff can work more than their allotted hours, including you, how do you plan that day?
Welcome to my next Sunday and the following four weekends after that. Actually rather than seeing this as a hassle, I think of it as logistics – which it is – and that’s a lot more of a brain challenge than I give myself for the rest of the year. I would say it’s the first time I ever used my university education to any benefit, but I did Philosophy so that’s still not paying its way.
Unaccompanied Minors are what give transfers that extra little twist. In order to release a child from the protection of BA or to hand them over into their suffocating embrace you have to be able to give the name, phone number, last meal request and the exact shape of the nostrils of the person who will pick them up at the other end. If you can’t do that, or if the parents have neglected to book a UM for a child that is under a certain age, you have to build a plane and fly them there yourself. Under no circumstances can you check them in or put them on that plane.
Luckily this is one area where getting the parents involved is far more effective than your Summer School staff could ever be and letting one of them chew the ear off someone at the ticket desk is almost fun.
Judging by the relatively small numbers of kids we get that belong in We Need To Talk About Kevin, I predict that most of you reading this have, or will have, wonderful children that go on to become fine members of your community and who you can send off to summer camp knowing that they’ll be a joy to all they come into contact with.
A few of you, though, will produce offspring that torment everyone they meet. The following examples all hail from one country which I don’t need to mention but, if you’ve ever done Summer School, you’ll guess.
Two girls who made it their only goal to hound Activities staff for not being old enough or academic enough to have any influence over them. They took people’s photos, tried to get their full names and threatened to write about them on the internet in their own country. I had a book out that year so I was all for it, but as far as I know, nothing ever came of it. They also videoed any kids that annoyed them and then showed the pictures to their parents via Skype.
A boy who got another boy in a choke hold and had to be pulled off by other kids. That in itself was less worrying to me than the fact he didn’t seem to have had any idea what he was doing. Expelled for everyone’s own safety which was a shame because he was generally very sweet when he wasn’t having a psychotic incident and his father was very good looking.
Another one who bought a load of lighter fuel on excursion and then set light to it on the driveway. I felt bad for him because that was probably a lot of fun but in two hundred year old, mostly wood and brick public schools, that’s not a risk we can take.
There was one (from a different, but guessable, country) who couldn’t poo unless his aunt drove all the way from London to pick him up and take him to her toilet. A four hour round trip which he insisted on at least twice a week.
I think of this as My Centre because it was a new site when I took on the role of Centre Director having previously been Academic Manager at a smaller centre. I went from managing 7 teachers, doing something I knew plenty about, to managing 27 staff and doing something I had no clue about. We couldn’t have had a much harder start either as there was a festival on the school grounds the day we arrived and we couldn’t use the building for about 5 critical hours in the afternoon.
This year we have an even bigger challenge as we can’t use the site until the morning the students arrive ie we have to set up and handle arrivals all on the same day with no prior set up day. Last year we had the British Council inspection to handle which I was involved with on two fronts since we were an inspected site, plus I’m responsible for the academic side of the entire network of schools year round.
I’d never have thought I could handle all that 6 years ago but the reason I can is purely because Summer School gave me the chance to and then taught me on the job anything I needed to know. I obviously think my own centre is the best but I have the school minibus drivers telling me the same so it must be true!
Sex at Summer School isn’t easy. Segregated accommodation and no privacy makes for the necessity of resourcefulness. You could sneak off to the tennis courts. No-one’s going to find out and sweep round in a car to catch you full beam in the headlights, surely?
Or get to know two of your new colleagues a little bit better on the induction night. Getting together early on can’t backfire in a residential job, surely?
Or you could drive off to a local farmer’s field. In broad daylight. And get caught. And chased. And drive back to your workplace where he can find you and make a complaint to the host school so your Centre Director has to get you to write a letter of apology.
A hotel has to be less hassle, surely?
Forget about it.
Being good at Summer School means planning ahead. There’s too much going on not to and tomorrow comes around a lot faster than in a regular job. You’ve only just got your new class on Monday (or maybe even Tuesday) but by Thursday you need to write a progress report and be on track for finishing your project lesson on Friday.
Academic Managers need to be one day ahead of the one day ahead that teachers are planning for and Activities Managers need to be in mental Wednesday while Sunday’s excursion is underway. Centre Directors are looking at Saturday’s arrivals on Monday and all the managers are thinking in Week 1 who they’re going to let go when student numbers drop. I can’t think of a better training ground for a high flying, demanding job (or running your own business for that matter) outside of ELT than that.
I manage on about five hours a night during the Summer. Even if I do get a lie in for the late shift, or finish at 7 and get an early night, I’m surrounded by kids and they can’t do anything without screeching or thundering around. The shower installation next to my room has hydraulically loud taps , there’s bound to be a fire drill – that I organised and then forgot about when doing the rota – or I just can’t sleep because there are too many things racing through my head. Either that or I’m having Summer School anxiety dreams although usually those start well ahead of induction and involve staff not listening to me when I’m trying to give instructions.
… the best job I’ve ever had and one I plan the year round to make sure I can do. It saved me in some very bleak years and financially keeps me afloat so I can do the other thing I love – write. I’ve made some of my best friends and been given the chance to develop professionally in an environment that’s more testing than most year round jobs could ever be.
And it gives me things to blog about! The funniest things to write are often necessarily the grimmest and the amazing things are neglected. Like working with young learners and teens in an environment that brings out the best in most of them; likewise the staff who I have seen excel and grow year after year; the feeling that you’re making a difference in a hundred ways as you create, and then dismantle, a little universe in a few weeks. See what a dull paragraph that made?
I honestly don’t understand anyone who doesn’t do at least one summer to see if they catch the bug and I’m happy to guide anyone that does in Bede’s direction. We pay better than most schools, offer the most structure for teachers in terms of planning, resources and support and don’t make teachers do wake ups or bedtimes.
Activities staff tend to stay with us for a few years as they are often university students with less changeable circumstances and the opportunities for promotion are high. I went in as Academic Manager and moved to Centre Director and Academic Consultant and we’re always on the lookout for teachers and activities staff that want to take on senior positions.
See you next year! 🙂