The Seven Step Guide to Surviving the Summer term
Updated: Nov 8, 2019
1. Get outside during break/lunch times every single day when the sun shines.
I'm starting with a cheesy one. But today the sun was shining, so I took a 15 minute walk around the school site and drank in some Vitamin D.
Usually, I don't condone working in the evenings; I think we should do our level best to steal some semblance of a work-life balance in them.
But in the summer term, I take it all back: we don't get a lot of sunshine in Britain, and it usually peeps out during working hours. So if, on those days, you take home an little bit more planning/marking to do when the sun goes in because you had a little walk, or a cup of tea outside with a colleague setting the world to rights, then so be it.
(It looks like this in the summer somewhere on Earth...)
2. Offer students a choice of help sessions which are convenient to you
During exam season, students can be extremely demanding on our time: asking us to teach lots of extra revision sessions, give them one-on-one tuition, stay after school, come in before school, slot in a break/lunch time, and so on. The exam culture has made us feel like we need to be constantly at our students' (and their parents') beck and call.
However, this can really wear us down, and make it difficult to keep up great teaching with non-exam classes as we're constantly exhausted and don't have enough prep time between lessons.
Instead, select a range of times during the week which fit in with your schedule (i.e. not right before a challenging double with Year 8) and offer students the choice. They can then take ownership of their revision and support schedule for the week, crafting something that works for them.
3. Make video mark schemes for students to use, rather than marking loads of past papers
Speaking of exam students being overly demanding of our time, they also constantly ask us to mark their past papers. And we give in because the alternative is the students marking their own and they aren't ever harsh enough, or struggle to interpret the mark scheme.
An approach I have tried with sixth formers this year, is making a video of myself working through the paper, with my phone camera positioned above the paper filming me writing, and I talked through how I was approaching each question. I made sure to highlight common misconceptions and errors, and explained how to break down the questions. Then I sent this to the students.
I asked them how they found it, and they loved that they could pause the video and make their corrections, and skip over explanations where they got the right answer. Building up a bank of these is hugely supportive for students, but means that you only need to go through each past paper once.
4. Remember that your students are the ones taking the exams
This is key. Although the ratios given vary, I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of the final grade comes down to the students' own effort, not down to us. Us killing ourselves doesn't help the student learn if we're the only ones doing any work. Learning is all about struggle.
So encourage students to work. And don't work any harder trying to help them, than they are trying to help themselves.
It's their name on the paper.
5. Balance in some creative planning for non-exam classes
This term can mean that the majority of our focus goes to the exam classes, and we don't put in the same level of detailed planning and creative thinking into our other lessons. When we know we could have done a better job with a lesson, this makes us feel rubbish about ourselves as teachers.
So make sure that, at least once a week, you plan a really great lesson for a non-exam class. It'll make you feel loads better. I promise.
6. Be ambitions (but not overly ambitious) in plotting reform for next year
The summer term is the time we think about planning for next year. We review our curricula, agree some changes, and some of them get made (usually over the summer holiday).
In my experience, this often gets pushed to the side by the general stress of the term: and it shouldn't. Not only because it's really important for our students, to ensure we do the best job we can for them, but also because its important for our development. We need to feel like we are progressing and improving in our practice to feel fulfilled as teachers.
So when reviewing the curriculum, don't be afraid to be radical, and discuss and debate within your department what kinds of changes you might want to make. Then divide up the jobs between the department. Anything that needs to be done before the September, get done before the summer holidays start. We shouldn't be giving up the whole summer holidays. Other jobs can be put in the calendar for during the next academic year.
7. Do something which gets you thinking
The challenge of the summer term is the seeming endlessness of revision sessions, extra support sessions, students grabbing you in the corridor to ask you to explain the same thing you did yesterday again. And so on. It can feel very repetitive.
And I find that my brain turns to mush, which isn't fun.
But, a few years ago, we (some colleagues and I) started going to a philosophy festival (How the Light Gets In) during the summer half term. And it really made a difference; all the talks and debates rejuvenated some mashed up brain cells, and re-awoke my curiosity. (And also music and comedy and drinking.)
Your 'thinking thing' doesn't need to be a major commitment. It might be reading a book you wouldn't normally read, going to a lecture on your subject one evening, playing strategy games, or writing an article. But rather than just trying to hammer some learning into kids, make sure you do some learning for you too.