I’m about to say something that’s probably going to be fairly unpopular to teachers out there who are used to being asked to do more for less: This summer, give even more. Volunteer at a summer camp for a week and get paid absolutely nothing to do it.
Now that I’ve gotten all of the unpopular and borderline offensive phrases and commands out of the way, here’s what I mean:
First, a bit about my backstory. I got my start in youth work at summer camps back in college. If for no other reason than primacy (it happened first), it’s really influenced the way I see my professional world. It’s the reason I’m cool with long hours, and see going above and beyond as the norm, rather than a district initiative to cheat me out of pay. It’s the reason I’ve chosen my discipline approach that I have, and it informs the way I approach staff development & training.
The simplest, and first, argument I’ll start with is that summer camp serves as a great compliment to what you do during the school year, and can serve as a great “reset button” for your approach with kids. If you’re anything like me, sometimes you get frustrated and tired of the shenanigans that kids pull throughout the year. Sadly, over the course of a few years, that point of fatigue & exhaustion most teachers feel throughout the year creeps earlier and earlier through the school year. If you find yourself so very ready for the last day of school before you hit the 100-day celebration, this may be a sign you know what I’m talking about.
So, give that, why in the world would I argue for doing more, and for free, during the summer? The simple reason is that I don’t believe fatigue is the mere result of effort exerted. I believe it has to do more with our perspective. We aren’t fatigued because we’ve done too much – we’re fatigued because we feel we’ve done too much. Sure, there is such a thing as actually getting tired, but we work long and hard at the beginning of the school year too and somehow feel recharged and refreshed in the morning when we come back.
So, summer camp – it’s a reset button that helps us reset our perspective about how and why we work with kids. It helps us connect with them as people again – not as sponges that need to soak up our lessons. We can start to reconnect with their goals and dreams, rather than our needs and pass-through district directives. At summer camp, the clock moves differently, and the entire goal structure is different. Have you ever gone out for a happy hour drink with colleagues and felt those work relationships rejuvenate? Sure, you just spent more time with that particular co-worker you’ve been detesting, but you shared a few laughs, personal stories, & margaritas, and things seem to be a bit lighter come Monday morning. It’s sort of the same with summer camp & kids – it’s the kid version your Friday afternoon happy hour.
Beyond just being able to tolerate kids, I think it really helps us improve as educators. So much of teaching is about relationships, from being able to challenge kids without them shutting down, to being able to deal with kids who have already shut down because of peer conflict. Let’s face it, as much as we want to maintain strong relationships with kids throughout the school year, increasing demands on teachers make it increasingly more difficult to do so. We still do maintain relationships, but it becomes more difficult, and relationships more strained – at least for me. Summer camp gives us the opportunity to reconnect with kids and focus just on relationships – not lessons, learning, etc.
I guess I can’t really ignore why I’m advocating for the free part of things. First, I’d say that I don’t think it’s absolutely essential. All of the things I mentioned above are certainly possible with paid positions, but there’s something about a volunteering that reaffirms exactly the reasons we do things as educators – for reasons other than the money. It’s almost like renewing our vows in a way – when you volunteer, you are completely and utterly choosing that interaction, and that makes it different than when you’re getting paid to do it.
So, summer camp folks – do it. For free. Or not, but I will!