Friday, August 18, 2006

Reflections of Summer School

Well, summer school is over and it is time to reflect back on my summer school experience. For the many of you that don't do summer school, I suggest you do it once so you can appreciate how lucky you are that you don't need the money and have a relaxing summer. However, enough of this and lets get on with what its like to teach summer school.

First, and most important are the students. Summer school students are not your regular year students. The summer school students are there for various reasons, all bad. Some of them are there because of poor work habits, others because of behavior problems, many are there due to academic dificencies, and a few due to attendance issues. In other words these students are the unmotivated bottom layer of the school system. To motivate them is a real challenge since if they were motivated, they wouldn't be in summer school in the first place!

Second, class size. While my three classes stabilized at 30, 32, and 32 students, there were some Math and Living Environment (Biology) classes with up to 48 students in a class. Some of the students were standing, sitting on the window sills, and shared chairs. What an environment for learning with already "at risk" students!

Third, many of the summer schools are not air conditioned and the average heat index in the summer is 92 degrees (temperature plus humidity). Even motivated students would have a problem with learning in these hot and humid classrooms, can you imagine what is like for the unmotivated student? What's interesting is that the Department of Education (DOE) claims that these old schools cannot handle air conditioners. However, all of these schools upgraded the wiring for the administrative offices and are air conditioned. Children first? Yeah right, if you believe that then I have a bridge to sell you.

Fourth, Teachers are paid on a per session basis ($37.96/hr) and are required to work five straight hours with only two 5 minute breaks in between the first and second period classes.Teaching three straight classes in less than ideal conditions is not condusive for good learning.

Fifth, school supplies and textbooks are usually inadequate since many of the summer school teachers come from other schools and the administrators don't like to give up precious resources to the summer school program. The result is that the school gives the summer school teachers outdated and poorly conditioned textbooks, little, if any photocopying services, and no technology. Pencils, paperclips, staples, and chalk are usually in short supply.

Finally, the DOE starves the summer school program of money. There is no money for test prep courses, tutoring, or allocation of extra hours for test scoring. The result is a "bare bones" program that meets the minimum requirements for summer school students who really need a maximum effort by DOE to educate the neediest of students.

Over the years the summer school program has changed, and not for the better. Once a student missed three days (summer school is 30 days long) the student was automatically discharged. Now a student can go on a two week vacation (10 days) and still demand to pass. Misbehaving students were discharged at a teacher's request, Now the administrator puts the student back into the class after a lecture. Finally, the lack of enforcement by administrators have seen an increase in cell phones, sidekicks, blackberries, and ipods in the summer school classrooms. A teacher can do little but threaten to fail the student but without administrative muscle teacher threats are not taken seriously since the student does not believe that they will fail until it's too late. (urban myth: There is a mistaken belief by high school students that if you show up enough the teacher can't fail you - wrong).

In conclusion, summer school is for the student misfits and the teachers that need the money. In our profession its called "blood money".

Postcript. My students had a 85% passing rate and a surprising 52% passed the New York State Earth Science Regents. Not bad considering the roadblocks in their way.


NYC Educator said...

Congratulations on your success helping these kids. I can only imagine how much the Chancellor appreciates it. Perhaps one day, if his limo is running slow, he'll offer you a hearty handclasp.

Having taught summer school, I agree with every word you wrote. This is my first summer off in maybe 20 years. My advice to you is save money before next summer, and don't wait as long as I did.

17 (really 15) more years said...

Chaz- I did summer school for 6 years before I was able to give it up, so I understand all too well needing the money. Having had the absolute joy of not working the past 2 summers, I can say with authority that I would rather eat ramen noodles for 9 weeks than ever teach in the summber again. More power to you- now get some rest!

jonathan said...

NYC Ed and 17 more already said it.

Can you make up the money somewhere else?

I have seen the deterioration in Summer School from the first year I worked it, 79, to the stories I hear now. The DoE clearly has little interest in the kids in the seats nor the teachers in the classrooms.

What a working environment.

no_slappz said...

The story here remains like all stories in the land of public school education in NYC: as long as everyone goes along with the program, nothing much will change.

If teachers truly had what it takes for force change on the system, they would retire and quit in mass numbers. If a huge percentage kissed off the DOE, major accomodations would reward those who remained in the system.

Meanwhile, teachers have alternatives to teaching summer school in public schools. There are many teaching settings that pay better.

Tutors earn more than $38 an hour -- for teaching ONE kid.

The successors

Anonymous said...

I was going to do it but at the last second decided not to, due to a lack of training session and unclear expectations. I'm glad I didn't, though I could have used the money! If I had, I think I'd be needing a real vacation around for the regular school year and another just for summer school!! My hat's off to ya. :-)

Reality-Based Educator said...

I taught summer school once - I had gotten hired in October of '01 as a per diem (a replacement for a 9/11 widow) and didn't get permanently placed on the payroll as a PPT until November 1st (I had to quit first before they would agree to make me a permanent teacher, even though that had been the deal I made w/ the AP BEFORE I took the job in Ocotober.)

Anyway, because I was only on the permanent payroll for 8 months, I lost 20% of my summer paycheck. This was two contracts ago and I think I was making about $33,500 (I was up a differential from the starting salary, which was $31,900.) I was attending Hunter College part time and teaching SAT workshops on weekends, so I was really busy, but I still needed to work summer school in order to make ends meet that first summer.

You can imagine my shock when I found out that I wouldn't receive my first paycheck from the summer work until August 20th, after summer school was officially over. I shouldn't have been surprised, of course. My pay as a per diem once got held up over the summer because the district ran out of money and had to wait to pay me until their September budget came through. And then wheh I switched from a per diem to a PPT in '01, my pay got held up another 6 weeks until I "transitioned" onto the payroll. Still, to work all summer because I needed money and then to not get the money was not fun.

What a miserable experience that summer was. Between the thankless job (though it was in MLK, so at least it was air conditioned), the delay in pay and my pro-rated salary, I remember thinking "This is what I'm going to graduate school for?"

Luckily the last two contract increases, my completion of my masters + 30, and the extra work I get tutoring has allowed me to never have to work summer school again. I don't envy people working summer school in un-air conditioned buildings w/ class sizes of 48!!!

Chaz, you captured the summer school experience perfectly and brought it all back home to me. Great post!

ric said...

As teachers we all do the good work that a modern society requires just to exist, never mind advance. Hats off to all who 'keep going' in the profession, regardless of critics and reformers from outside. Let them come in and get their feet and legs soaked in rhetoric and reality. I doubt if they'd be back the next day to do it all over again with new ideas and excitement to meet the unique challenges experienced the previous day. This tenacity is what makes a true teacher, and keeps them around for thirty plus.