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 The result is that the school gives the summer school teachers outdated and poorly conditioned textbooks, little, if any photocopying services, and no technology.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.