So I’m teaching summer school again — in Rome, NY — and the more things change the more they stay the same. Last year they cut way back on both staffing and on programming, but this year things are back to some sense of semi-normalcy. Instead of having just 2 teachers and 2 subjects for the eighth graders, we are back to 4 teachers and 3 subject areas to hopefully spread the wealth and get these kids back on track.
As a teacher there’s a lot not to like about summer school, if you’re so inclined. For me, though, I see it as an opportunity, for both the kids and for myself, to stretch our wings and try new things. I mean, considering they didn’t do well during the school year it gives them a second chance to feel good about themselves. Here are three things I go into summer school making sure I’m thinking about every day.
1. It’s all about the effort.
That can’t ever possibly be taken lightly. One of the students told me that she was “retarded,” on the first day of summer school this year and I immediately shut that down. Somewhere, though, this had become an internalized issue with her, so much so that she seemed to just take it all in stride, like it was just a part of her, like there was nothing that could be done to make her any different. As if she were throwing her hands up, but I pushed them back down.
She’s not in summer school because she can’t handle the work during the regular school year. She eventually admitted as much to me, and so far I’ve already seen sparks of intellectual strengths out of her. Those strengths just need to be given room and a safe area to bloom. She had stopped putting in the effort because she thought it was hopeless, that SHE was hopeless, and that’s what I’m here for, to help her see the possibilities, to help them all see the possibilities.
2. Have fun with it.
If I’m standing in front of them every day lecturing how does that help these students? They’ve already failed in an environment like that, so why not give them something different? Why not challenge them in different ways and let them succeed instead of giving them what they’ve already had and not been successful at? If I can somehow create a sense of accomplishment perhaps it will carry over when they are indeed forced back into that standard style of classroom.
So I have fun with it, and my colleagues and I employ different types of instruction with them, from cooperative groups to student-led discussions, to problem solving games, to student presentations on “expert” subjects. We start off our days with historical trivia and we end them with lyrical analysis. We’re breaking down the meaning in a Taylor Swift song tomorrow at day’s end.
3. Make connections.
I have so many students who come back to me each summer and tell me what a difference being in my class has made in their lives, or even just in their school careers. Just yesterday a student I had two years ago sought me out while they were getting ready to get on the buses to go home for the day. She told me how important it was that she had me believing in her, and that even two years later she thought about our classes and took it to heart. Sadly, I think that there weren’t many people in her world who did believe in her back then, but luckily I made an impression.
That happens so often, and it’s refreshing to see time and again. And even though seeing them again means they’re back in summer school for whatever reasons it warms my heart to see that it’s never for English, that somehow they have all moved forward and don’t need that kind of summer reinforcement in the subject most came in hating. I hope that in some small way I can do that for my students this summer too.