I remember how time used to trickle by so slowly during my childhood. Now it’s like an endless Niagara Falls, cascading over the precipice of age and experiences. Here I find myself, looking across the recently snow covered, now sun filled French Alps lamenting the end of another winter. A hint of nostalgia detected? Perhaps…but far more prominent is the bubbling excitement of another effervescent laughter filled, million-mile-per-hour SBC summer to come. I see it and feel it everywhere: colleagues from summers gone by wondering if we are to be reunited this year; Head Office confirming dates and times and places to be; phone calls discussing another brilliant idea for afternoon activities. I can feel it – it’s about to begin!!
I first joined SBC at Norman Court as a recently qualified native English TEFL teacher and found myself anxious at the prospect of embarking on this new path. Excited by the expectations I’d gathered from the SBC website, my interview with Sam and Chloe from head office, and chatting with friends who’d previously worked at other summer schools. The drive up to the school that first evening was breath taking. The seemingly never-ending, winding, tree-lined country lane finally opened out on to fields of wheat, swaying in the soft evening summer sun, past a stud farm where the most handsome horses on earth glanced lazily over towards me, and then up to the impressive school building.
Any nerves I had were immediately melted away by warm smiles from staff and tempting BBQ smells that wafted out and welcomed me on to the terrace. Management, returning staff, newbies like myself, all chatted the evening away and before the night was over I felt like I had a whole new set of friends. This introduction to SBC has really stuck with me over the years. That nervous anticipation, hazy expectation, how all new staff are bound to feel, how a lot of returning staff feel too! And, most importantly, a shred of an idea of how the arriving students are soon to feel – a different country, a different language, far away from friends, family, anything familiar. Once summer school kicks off it is an incredibly rewarding experience to bear witness to just how quickly those worries fall to the floor and are forgotten. Within moments the kids are making friends, chatting in English, getting to know each other, involving themselves in activities they love, find hilarious or perhaps have never even imagined.
I was overwhelmed by the support at the school, the teachers’ prep room was a vibrant platform for sharing ideas on games, activities, songs, class discussions, strategies for getting 8-12 year olds to engage, even thoughts on how to set up and decorate your classroom! In addition to the formidable peer support from fellow teachers, the Director of Studies was always on hand for help, advice, a friendly chat, performance reviews and feedback. I cannot emphasise enough how many more skills I learnt in those four short weeks.
I think it was at the beginning of week two that I was (jokingly) given the title of Rounders Captain. I have always loved the game, and was bitterly disappointed to find that it didn’t feature on the list of summer sports at my secondary school, so had basically been itching to play again since the age of thirteen. As well as delivering thoughtful, fun and invigorating lessons at summer school five mornings a week, one of the highlights of being an SBC teacher is that you are also fully involved in every other aspect of school life – all the games, activities and excursions out of the classroom. These range from football, swimming, tennis, silly Olympics, golf, zorbing, horse riding, wacky races, jewellery making and (of course…) rounders, to trips to the zoo, theme parks, animal sanctuaries, castles, cities, sometimes even skiing (in a dome).
Fast paced doesn’t begin to describe it…Think Hadron Collider. For four weeks. There’s no denying that at times it can be intense. Morning, noon and night there’s excitement hovering overhead and usually at least one eager student who always wants to know: “And what are we doing after this? And then? What about tomorrow?” You savour an early night. Cherish the rare and enviable afternoon nap! But it’s all so worth it. Living this high-octane existence for four weeks is entirely necessary just to keep up with the youthful energy of the kids, and at the end of the day it is refreshing and makes me feel ten years younger.
My second year at SBC I returned as a teacher again, but this time at the Oxford centre held at The Dragon School. This was a bigger school, working within a bigger team, teaching older students. I had spent the majority of the year between summers teaching in New Zealand and had grown with experience. However, once again I found myself completely bowled over by the support from both my fellow teachers and the wonderful Director of Studies. With a bigger team came an even larger, more diverse ideas pool, and with formal personal development training sessions on top of peer idea exchange I was newly overwhelmed by how much more I could learn about teaching in such a short space of time.
With a different school and a different age group came new challenges, and although I felt familiar in the framework of an SBC school, this year also felt like a totally new experience, fresh and invigorating. The historic and beautiful city of Oxford is within walking distance of the school, and frequent shopping trips and cultural expeditions into town were as exciting for me as they were for the students.
You might be wondering why I keep wanting to go back? Quite simply, because I loved it!
Last year saw my third consecutive summer with SBC, and this year I was part of the team that welcomed the use of our incredible new host school at SBC Bournemouth for an even more ambitious five weeks rather than four. Like all SBC sites the school is monumentally impressive and extremely well equipped. In particular, SBC Bournemouth consists of stunning, spacious and secure grounds, incredible facilities including an on-site gym complete with huge pool, a golf course and multiple tennis courts, as well as state of the art classroom facilities such as smart boards and a brilliant IT department on hand. As Senior Teacher this year I worked closely alongside the Director of Studies to rally the largest group of teachers ever employed at an SBC summer school.
A new syllabus this year provided teachers with a wealth of hand-picked resources with which to work. Detailed weekly lesson outlines were distributed, from which teachers had the flexibility to plan using the relevant provided text books and CD’s, or their own creativity. Yet again, the support and the facilities were simply astounding and it was a joy to see our team pull together.
Summer 2013 was one of those rare British summers that was genuinely and consistently hot and sunny. Given the staggeringly beautiful outside spaces of SBC Bournemouth this was a fantastic advantage when it came to afternoon and evening activities. Time spent running around outside in the clean fresh summer air was plentiful, the entire school took an afternoon trip to the beach where we played volleyball and swam in the sea, surfing and stand-up paddle boarding were included on the list of English plus activities for the first time, and I got to play A LOT of rounders.
Possibly my ultimate highlight of the SBC social programme is The Disco. It deserves capital letters for it is a momentous occasion. The girls and boys take their time getting ready, and then group photos are taken in boarding houses. As well as the music there is always an engaging theme to appeal to everyone’s creative best; for example, at the Western Cowboy Disco there was a revolving inflated bucking bronco, and for the glitz and glam Hollywood Disco everyone entered via a paparazzi lined red carpet. But this is not the best bit. The ultimate highlight is the tear jerker of a moment when the disco comes to a sad end and around 200 students of over 50 nationalities all merge together hugging and sobbing and exchanging contact details and begging for reassurance that they will stay in touch. The hall is left with the reverberating sound of a multitude of young voices exclaiming hopefully, assuredly, “See you next year!!”
I can honestly say that at the end of five weeks of SBC Bournemouth I was utterly shattered. I think I actually fell asleep at the table of the staff leaving dinner… But no matter how exhausted you feel, on the last day, as all the staff are packing up and preparing to go their separate ways, there is always a tearful goodbye and then a wide happy smile when someone asks, “See you next year?” YES, you certainly will!
You might be wondering why I keep wanting to go back? Quite simply, because I love it! The five weeks are as fun as they are tiring, and not only do I create some fantastic memories of my own, I am confident that I am part of a wonderful team that creates an unforgettable experience for every single young student that attends an SBC summer school. So, as they grow older and the torrents of time begin to flow by increasingly rapidly, memories of a wonderful summer spent in England will stay with them, and that is something I can feel truly proud of.
Vanessa Hackman – SBC Senior Teacher