How to summarise my time at summer school? I think it’s fair to say it was hard work, full on, but also fun and rewarding. I learnt a lot about working as a team (and what happens when you don’t) and about working with children (the good and the bad) and I came away feeling utterly exhausted but also fulfilled.
The first week – 34 kids to 6 staff – was a blast. There were a couple of naughty ones but overall the kids were fun, respectful, compliant. I’m not sure we realised it at the time (most of us were new to camp life) but working with them was a breeze.
The day went something like this: wake the kids at 8.30, breakfast at 9.00, teaching from 10.00 – 1.15. Lunch at 1.30, followed by free time (which involved giving the children their phones and money for sweets). Activity 1 at 3.30, snack at 5.00, activity 2 at 5.30. Then showers at 7.30, dinner at 8.30 and night activity from 10.00 – 11.00. Then it was lights out for the children at 11.30 and – in theory at least – that was it until the next day.
As a teacher, as opposed to activity leader, I worked every morning and did one of the three activity sessions. Wake-up, meals, free time and showers were split between us all. So, there was some free time built into the schedule for us, but when we weren’t planning the next day’s lessons or setting up for the next meal or activity, we were usually sleeping!
And so the first week went by until finally changeover day came. We waved goodbye to the first group with some sadness, got more than a few hugs and took a (quick) breather before the second group arrived. As I remember, we told ourselves that the second week had to be easier. After all, we’d done it all once. We’d learnt how to run the camp along the way. We’d planned the lessons and activities. All we had to do was roll it all out again. Right?
I was on check-in for the second group and so I saw every one of the 43 kids dropped off by their parents. They all seemed compliant enough as I took their mobile phones and money in and my colleague took in their health cards, medical information and parents’ contact details. Little did I know how different they would prove to be when they were all together.
It’s not that there were specific individuals who were trouble-makers (ok, maybe one) but somehow as a group they were so much harder work than the first group. Of course, there were more of them, but I don’t think that’s all there was to it. Overall they were perhaps slightly older, although we still had the same spread of ages (7-13) and if anything their English level was on the whole lower. But the main problem we had was simply getting them to listen.
During the first week, we used to put up a hand to ask for silence. Gradually, the children would notice and do the same, and the noise level would drop. With this new group, you put your hand up and just a few would copy. And even those who did might keep talking – even if it was to ask the others to be quiet. But a room full of children bellowing at each other to stop talking is not a quiet room. Eventually, the noise might drop for long enough for you to start speaking, but pause even for long enough to take a breath and it would soon start right back up again.
By the end of the second day with this new group, about half of the staff were ready to pack up and leave. I genuinely feared that two of them might go. Fortunately, the only person who actually left was one of the children. (Another, who had pestered us to call him an ambulance even though there was absolutely nothing wrong with him eventually stayed and turned it around after a check-over by the doctor and a good talking to by his mother.)
I remember wondering at the time whether the start of the first week had been just the same, whether the major difference was that we had been fresh then and were tired now. But as the week went on, it became clear that the second group were just rowdier. (But only 10% rowdy according to the camp co-ordinator. I’d hate to see 90% rowdy if that’s the case!) In fact, we ran a quiz on the Friday evening and when we couldn’t even make ourselves heard to give the correct answers we gave up and sent them to bed without announcing the winners. We said we’d tell them the next day but in the event nobody seemed the slightest bit interested, so we never did.
So yes, it was hard work. Yes, there were times when the children, the management and even the other staff tried my patience (as I’m sure I tried theirs). But it was rewarding too.
There was the girl who taught us all a complicated handclap greeting and insisted on doing it even at the most inappropriate moments. There was the girl who asked me why I was the best teacher (bless her). There was the girl who said she’d learnt more English at camp than all year at school. There was good-humoured splashing in the river. And there were the unexpected hugs goodbye (from both groups).
When they had finally all gone, we put the music on loud and set about sweeping the dining room one last time. And as we swept and sang, I thought to myself: yes, it had been hard work, but it had all been worth it. Would I have done it if I’d known quite how hard it would be? Maybe not. But would I do it again? Yes.
Just give me a year to recover.