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”?)…

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