Teaching vs. Camp Counseling

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately.  I’m a new teacher this year, and before this, my only real exposure to high schoolers was through camp counseling (and other youth ministry-type events).  I have some random thoughts I’d like to get down…not sure that they’ll be very organized or all too enlightening, but here they are nonetheless:

  • The Cool Factor.  As a camp counselor, a huge part of your persona is to be cool.  Not “cool” as in fashionable, or hip to the latest trends, but more of a goofy kind of cool.  Camp counselors give cool a new meaning.  We teach kids that being creative and out of the box is cool.  That loving each other is cool.  That eating with no hands is cool and playing dress up is cool and praying is cool.  That laughing is cool and crying is cool and groupbuilding is REALLY cool.  Now, I’d like to think that I’m teaching a lot of my highschoolers these things too, but one fact is for sure: as a teacher, I am not cool.  My campers run up to me and give me a big hug when they see me; on the contrary, when I say hi to my students in the hallways (why do I do this?), they actually ignore me.  In a good week of camp, your campers want to BE you; my students can’t think of anything less cool than my job.  Campers want the week to last a lifetime; my students hope the year(s) they’re in my class will fly by.
  • Making/Breaking the Rules.  Of course we have rules at camp, like “no throwing rocks.”  But for the most part, we actually encourage kids to break insignificant social norms.  Stay up all night talking, scream as loud as you can, eat spaghetti with your face.  It seems as if so much of the job of camp counseling is letting kids know it’s okay be a little wild and crazy.  Teaching, on the other hand seems to have much more of a focus on rules.  We’re doing everything we can to keep the kids from being wild and crazy!  The more we’re strict about do’s and don’ts, the more control we have in the classroom.
  • Directing a Moral Compass.  As a teacher, my relationship with the students stays very much at music, occasionally breaching life lesson topics that are related to the ways music affects us and helps us grow (à la Craig Arnold).  As soon as I hear my students talking about sex, drugs, etc, I’m inclined to plug my ears and pretend I’m not listening.  As a camp counselor, however, I’m often the one instigating these conversations.  Talking about tough topics is part of the job.  You work to become someone your campers look up to so that your (hopefully decent) moral decisions can be something they look up to as well.  As I’m writing this, I’m being flooded with memories of camp.  From a 14-year-old girl confiding in me that she thought she might be pregnant, to a 16-year old boy experimenting with drugs… shit got real.  The relationships I was able to develop with my campers grew from these deep discussions, and I can only hope some of them were affected positively in long-term ways.  As a teacher, I feel limited to the subject I teach.  It seems as though it would be inappropriate for me to discuss controversial topics.  I don’t feel allowed to really share my life experiences or moral views with my students or to be available to listen to theirs.  After all, isn’t that what the guidance counselor is for?
  • Separation of Church and State.  This one is obvious.  At camp, we talk about God.  At school, we can’t.  I knew this would be the case when I took this job, but I don’t think I realized how much it would affect me.  Because music is so related to my spiritual life, I find myself often wanting to share my faith or talk about religion in ways I know I can’t.  The topic does come up for me more than most other teachers, I’m sure, since over 50% of the music we sing is sacred.  On some level, we get to discuss the meaning of these texts, for which I’m thankful.  Still, I have to squash part of who I am in order to do the job.  I feel like a closeted Lutheran!  I have to be very conscious of what I say so as to not cause any trouble with my beliefs.  (Although it’s worth mentioning that at our most recent department-wide performance, one of my ensembles gathered in a circle, held hands, and prayed before singing… totally student-led!  They actually had to make me join them, as I stood to the side and watched in disbelief.)

I’m curious to hear any feedback from other teachers/counselors out there!  As I write this, I feel on some level like maybe these differences shouldn’t exist so much.  Maybe I would be a better teacher if I imagined myself as a counselor?  High school is a strange world, and I learn something new every day about how to better reach the students and what my role truly is.  I’ve enjoyed my job more and more as the year has gone by.  (Maybe I’m enjoying it most right now simply because I’m on Spring Break…)  I’m thankful to have colleagues who inspire me and make me laugh, and I’m looking forward to another year of figuring out what the hell I’m doing!  And so I leave you with this…a final reminiscing on my days as a counselor (see what I mean by “cool”?)…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

a lenten pottery sonnet

pottery
The wheel spins round and round my thoughts do go,
A centering of self and heart and clay.
This lump of dirt finds shape although it may
First push and pull as if it doesn’t know
That I’m the potter; it’s the pot I throw.
“As your creator, trust I know the way,”
I whisper, and it starts to bend and sway.
She rises tall and finds her form just so.
I’m stubborn in the path I walk and yearn
To see beyond the walls of labyrinth life.
What lies before me? A world that is rife
With fear and fire, and what’s my lesson learned?
Walk on with faith in Love who conquered strife.
From dust we’ve come; to dust we shall return.

photo (30)

from dust to dust

I’ve decided to take on daily writing for Lent, whether it’s in the form of poetry, journaling, blogging, or letter-writing.  It’s an art form that I love and haven’t done much of lately, so I’m hoping it will be a good reflective practice.  In any case, be on the lookout for more frequent blog posts (finally)!

IMG_4249All the talk about dust today has had me contemplating my newest hobby: pottery.  This coming Tuesday will be my final class of an 8-week pottery class I signed up for in Middletown.  As an art major in college, I always figured I’d get around to pottery but never did, and have always regretted it!  So when I found Wesleyan Potters, it was like a dream come true.  I’d have the opportunity to get my hands dirty, meet new people, and hopefully come out with a few pots.

Kaia shaping clay, while Lori throw an incredible vessel in the background

Kaia shaping clay, while Lori throws an incredible vessel in the background

I quickly learned that throwing a pot is magical.  All the beginners in my class gathered around our teacher, Lori, and watched with amazement as she set a lump of clay on the wheel, and then began to shape it, a series of pushes and pulls making something out of nothing.  I’m pretty sure we all cocked our heads to the side like amused animals as we watched the rings of clay circle up the side of her cylinder.  Her pot just kept growing with what appeared to be no effort from her hands.

She repeated these steps for us four times in a row before we were sent off to try ourselves.  By the fourth time, I was sure I had the process down.  I sat down at my own wheel, ready to make some magic!  But that stupid little lump of clay took power over me, rocking my hands back and forth as I tried to get it centered on the wheel.  Our little troop of beginners quickly felt frustrated, and we watched Lori yet again, as she pulled another pot from a ball of clay.  Magic.

IMG_4312From that very first day, my mind was turned to images of God as potter.  “We are the clay, You are the potter” (Isaiah 64:8) suddenly began to mean something.  That little ball of clay is plain, worthless, and stubborn as all-get-out.  But a Master potter can shape it into the most beautiful, useful work of art.  My mind searched for other clay references, and I thought of James Weldon Johnson’s poem, “The Creation.”  This poem, which was read as a part of my degree recital last February, tells the story of Creation in terms that anthropomorphize God, giving God human emotions of loneliness and motherliness.  Towards the end of the poem, after God has created the light and land and creatures, God decides to create man.  So God kneels down in the dust by the river and scoops up a ball of clay, toiling over it until he shapes it just perfectly.  Oh how many hours I have toiled over clay, hands caked in mud, skin dryer than sandpaper.  Here’s the thing: after hours of toiling, I make a lovely little pot.  God, the Master potter, started with dust, and made you and me.

Speaking of creation, I happened to be reading a bit about Darwin towards the beginning of my pottery class, and would do a disservice if I didn’t include a quote of his in this post.  He, too, sees creating and evolution in the imagery of clay:

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

I got my first 3 pots out of the kiln this past Tuesday, and have about 10-12 more getting fired in the next week.  photo 2If I thought throwing a pot was magical, glazing is even more so!  It was such a surprise to see how each pot turned out, and I can’t wait for the rest.  But for every decent pot I threw during this class, I crumpled up three more.  And each time I’d mess up, it was an incredible reminder of my malleable medium.  At any stage in the game, a pot in progress can simply be broken down into dust once again, mixed with water, and turned back into clay for molding.  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

I’ve signed up for another 8-week session in hopes of improving my new craft.  I’ve learned that the skill of centering involved in making pots does not just refer to the pot, but to the potter.  As I center the clay on the wheel, I center my own thoughts and self.  As I shape the clay, I am clay that is shaped.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.

 

IMG_4346

MLK Day: An Artist’s Reflections

During my 3 years living in DC, I received an incredible commission – to paint three murals on three unused doors of Luther Place Church.  (In retrospect, seeing the number 3 appear so many times seems like a sure sign of the Holy at work in my life and the life of the church at that time!)  I was – still am – a young artist with such little experience in public art, especially in the heart of our nation’s capital.  But the Rev. Karen Brau believed in me and in the Spirit working through my brush.

3995793312_6bd70debdc_bThe first mural we decided on was of St. Francis.  I remember very clearly when I asked if she had anything specific in mind.  Her response: “You can do whatever you’d like.  But it must be whimsical, memorable, and distinctive.”  No pressure or anything.  The process took me about two months – one month of studying St. Francis and drawing sketches, and one month of bringing it to life on the church’s large front doors.  My fears subsided when the mural was completed, unveiled to an appreciative community and blessed with animals present.

I began to look forward to the next two doors, considering my work only a third of the way done – it was a triptych from the start.  And all the while, though the artistic aspect of it was thrilling, it was the process of studying and sketching that inspired and prepared me.  You see, these murals were never arbitrary.  Much thought and prayer went into each square inch.  The three-ness of the mural triptych represents the triangle of land on which Luther Place has stood tall since the mid 1800s.  St. Francis overlooks the small bit of a front yard which the church displays on the well-populated Thomas Circle.  His care for creation extends to the DC dog-walkers, ever abundant.  The remaining two doors were on very different streets – the bustling, gentrifying 14th Street corridor, and the surprisingly quiet, meditative Vermont Ave.  For many reasons, I had Hildegard von Bingen on my mind, and the Vermont Ave door seemed to be calling her name.  But Pastor Karen wanted the 14th St door painted next, and thus, the thinking and praying began.

IMG_8296I remember feeling strongly that the figure on the 14th St door should represent social justice, and PK and I agreed that at least one of the three doors should be a woman, and at least one should be a person of color.  The doors needed to represent the diversity of our changing world and the hopes for the growing congregation inside the doors.  I invited Rev. Mike Wilker (at that time, Director of Lutheran Volunteer Corps) to travel outside with me one day during work so we could brainstorm.  Together, we stood in the middle of the sidewalk and stared at the dulled red doors.  We listed many frontrunners – Gandhi, Oscar Romero, Mother Theresa, MLK Jr.  My thoughts hung on MLK.  I found the courage to voice what I was thinking: “I feel like it has to be Martin Luther King, Jr. because of the location and history of this church, but I’m afraid that it wouldn’t be a striking enough choice… so many things in this city already commemorate MLK.”  But Mike affirmed my gut reaction, and it was decided: Mural #2 would represent Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was excited to start my research and sketching, and especially excited at the timing of it all, as I was planning to unveil the mural on Easter 2010, which happened to fall on the day of MLK’s assassination.  This was especially meaningful in the context of Luther Place Church because his assassination, which caused riots all over the country, was a catalyst to waking up the Luther Place congregation to a collective life of action in the face of injustice.

But things didn’t go as planned.  In March, my dad was diagnosed with cancer and I went home to NC.  As I spent time with him in the hospital, it was necessary to find topics of conversation to keep our minds distracted from the fears at hand.  We kept coming back to the MLK mural.  What should he be wearing?, I asked my dad.  What quote should I use?  What images should be in the mural?  What should his facial expression convey?  Dad helped me think through all of these things.  In fact, at 4am in the ICU, we read the entire I Have a Dream speech aloud.  I knew I didn’t want to use King’s most popular quotes.  Yet the one I chose, stood out to me in that moment.  “We cannot walk alone.  And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.”  This part of King’s speech comes right after he says that our freedom is inextricably bound to our neighbor’s freedom.  “We cannot turn back,” King says.

IMG_8284The mural was unveiled the following January (2011) – 3 years ago (there’s that number three again!).  My dad’s health improved, and today, he has officially been in remission for 3 years.  The mural brightens 14th St, and perhaps slows some of DC as it speeds by.  Ironically, many people walk by that quote alone, too busy to think outside of their own heads.  The message will be there later, on their way back from where they’ve gone.  And it will be there the next day and the next – a constant reminder of the work we have to do…together.

I’ve been gone from DC for almost 3 years now, but a piece of myself has remained with each of those murals.  Oh the hours I talked to St. Francis, MLK, and Dorothy Day!  They have become heros (close friends, even) of mine, and I pray that they will continue to look over the Luther Place community – congregation and passersby alike.

Changing Leaves, Changing Lives

1383090_781596847083_644478672_nI’ve finally been settling into the colorful New England fall, certain that the bright yellow leaves on the tree in my backyard somehow give me the Vitamin D I lack on cloudy days.  I’m glad it’s the season where people articulate what they’re thankful for, and where daylight savings time means cozy evenings and productive mornings.  It’s times like these that I can’t imagine living in a place that doesn’t witness season changes!  Somehow, even though I’ve experienced the rotation from summer to fall 20-something times, it feels new and beautiful beyond words each year.

One of the songs I grew to love in middle/highschool is called More Faithful by Skillet.  It was on a Christian mix CD that I won playing some game in youth group.  It was really the only Christian music I ever got into (other than camp songs).  The chorus, talking about God, says, “You have been more faithful than the morning sun.  You have been more faithful than knowing night will come.  You have been more faithful than the changing of seasons.”  It seems like a bit of a paradox to me that something that changes constantly (seasons) has an element of stability because we know how the change functions (fall, winter, spring, summer).  I’m beginning to see the changes in my own life a bit like this.  Every time I land in a job or school, I feel relieved that my search is over.  It isn’t too much longer before I realize I still have to think about what happens next.  I’ve always seen this process as stressful, though perhaps I can take comfort in the consistency of change.  Vocation, it turns out, is a bit like the changing of seasons.

While the season of my life that has just passed was school, the current one is teaching.  It’s bizarre to be on this side of homework-not-finished, quizzes-not-studied-for, and classes-too-tired-to-care-about.  Now I get to be the frustrated one, not understanding why my students don’t prioritize my class above all else!  I find myself saying things my teachers once said to me, and I can’t help but shake my head in disbelief at this new season in my life.  Teaching is…well… it’s a lot of things.  It’s hard.  It’s energizing.  It’s also exhausting.  It’s forced extroversion, it’s babysitting, it’s mentoring.  It’s biting my tongue and wearing heels and feeling strangely old.  And in my experience, when it’s good, it’s really good, and when it’s bad, it’s really bad.

Me and Joshua, Oct 13, 2013

Me and Joshua, Oct 13, 2013

I’m sure I will share many more posts about the specifics of my teaching job over the year.  For now, I’ll simply say that I have been enjoying this new season of my life and learning a LOT.  I teach 6 classes (though my job is supposedly only 20 hrs/week): Theory 2, Chorale, Vocal Technique, First Year Seminar, Academy Singers, and A Cappella.

51828_557882562303_7720058_o

Me and Kaia, 2010

The other most notable change in my life is that I have a new nephew!!  His name is Joshua Paul (middle name chosen after my dad), and he is about half the size of my niece Kaia when she was a newborn!  Joshua lives just 45 minutes from my place in Middletown, so I have gotten to visit a few times in the last few weeks.  Being an aunt is the greatest.  No one else in my family has gotten to meet him yet, but my folks are coming up for Thanksgiving, which we will all spend together.  I will have a whole list of things to say when we name what we’re thankful for.

As I’m writing this post, I’m seeing the first snowflakes of the year – a sign that fall isn’t here to stay.  Those white, glistening flakes which would usually excite the child within me instead harken back to a canceled recital and many tear-filled nights.  I’m glad that particular winter was fleeting!  And I’m ready for more changes: let the old be made new!

recital 2

Part Time Part Two

photo (15)This morning was my first Sunday at my new church gig!  I am the organist and choir director of First Lutheran Church in Waterbury, CT.  It is a beautiful space with a small but mighty congregation.  I am thankful that it is a low-stress church job, not too far away from home (30 minutes), and – for the first time – my own denomination!  It will allow me to put my energy into teaching (which sure is taking a lot), while bringing in a few extra dollars to worship at a place I would probably just attend anyway.  I’m excited to get to know the pastor, who is a second career Harvard Divinity grad, just four years into her ministry at FLC.  Yet another female mentor in my life!  Awesome.

photo (13)When I arrived at church bright and early to practice this morning, there were flowers for me on the organ with a card.  Oh how I appreciate small thoughtful things, like that!  It makes me think about my own thoughtfulness, and reminds me to do a better job writing thank you cards, recognizing birthdays, and giving small gifts just for the hell of it.  I have certainly been thinking a lot about friends far and near since I live alone now.  The extra peace and quiet gives me space to think of others, which I’m mostly enjoying (except for the times it makes me feel lonely!).

Between school, church, and other gigs I’m picking up here and there, I think I’m able to make an okay living.  You can read about past or upcoming gigs on my professional website: amandakateweber.com.  And of course, if you have a gig to offer, please keep me in mind!  This new adventure has been interesting so far; definitely not what I thought I’d be doing this year, but I can’t complain.  I am learning a LOT about teaching, which I’ll share in a future post.  Life is good, and to make it even better, I’ll be an aunt again in about two weeks!  My brother, Jeff, and his wife Danielle are having a baby boy this month.  They only live 45 minutes from me, so I’m excited to be a regular visitor!  Stay posted for lots of pics and gushy updates.