Published 2/9/14 by: Kaitlin
For the past decade (every summer since I was 19), I have worked at the same summer camp. When I was in college, and knew I wanted to become a teacher, it seemed like the obvious decision. While future CEOs and financiers were hustling at internships in stuffy offices, my apprenticeship entailed swim lessons, Dr. Dodgeball, tag, and freezee-pops. It was glorious.
In January of 2004, I went in for an interview at the private school my brother had attended, where they had a very successful day camp for kids ages 5-15. The camp director asked me questions like, “why do you want to spend your summer with kids?” “What would you do in this difficult scenario?” “Do you feel like you’re good in collaborative environments?” “Are you able to be flexible and work with what you’ve got?” At age 19, most of my answers we’re completely fabricated. My resume consisted of working at stationary/gift shop, and babysitting for kids on my brother’s little league team. I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I had very few marketable skills in relation to working with kids. Camp was supposed to be my internship, right? So hopefully this camp director realized that this would be a learning opportunity for me.
I didn’t get the job.
I was told that a lot of alumni applied for positions, and that an overwhelming amount of people were returning to work at this camp again. I was super disappointed and resigned to the fact that I would spend my summer ringing people up for helium balloons, and greeting cards. Fortunately for my sanity, and career, that’s not what happened.
In April I received a phone call. It was the camp director. Apparently enrollment at the camp was at an all-time high, and he could really use me for four weeks in the middle of the summer. Would I be interested? No-brainer. So, in July 2004, I started my illustrious career as a camp counselor. What I didn’t realize at the time, and can only reflect on now ten years later, is that it would be the hardest, sweatiest, most-rewarding, hilarious experience of my life. Apart from motherhood, I may never encounter another job that taught me so much. It’s with a heavy heart that I move on to other endeavors this summer, but this place, this experience, these friends, won’t soon be forgotten.
What I Learned:
- Don’t take yourself too seriously – the kids don’t, so why should you?
- Get dirty, you can always clean up later, but you can’t ever re-do that moment with the water ballon launcher.
- Establish rules early, or you’ll be giving piggy-back rides the entire summer.
- Treat all kids the same way unless there are extenuating circumstances.
- If you sit out, then the kids will sit out. You have to sell whatever crappy or fantastic activity you’re doing.
- It’s important to have a look – a teacher’s stare, if you will, that kids will be able to identify across a soccer field. Sometimes not saying anything at all can be a thorough discipling tactic.
- Know everyone’s name. Camper, co-worker, superior etc.
- Always bring extra clothes (especially socks) – you never know when you’ll be peed on, or invited to something after camp.
- I am capable of inventing things. I have made up games, electives and transition activities. I am not creative, so know that you too can surprise yourself.
- Kids will believe anything, so take advantage of that in a nice way. I once was part of an elaborate story that our camp used to be a cinnamon factory, and some of the employees were keeping it alive underground. The only way kids could find out more of the story is if they completed necessary tasks: like everyone tying their shoes at the pool.
If I’m ever in a position where I am reviewing resumes, applications etc. for candidates of any kind -whether it be in an office or school setting, and I see camp experience listed, that is going to escalate that candidate’s chances of getting the job ten-fold. Camp counselors are versatile, persevering people who have chosen to spend their summers with kids. That’s the person I’d want to hire. I leave you with this, a John Hurst quote that was read on every first and last day of camp for my first five years there: “There are beginnings and there are endings. What meaning and effect your experience here will have in your life only you will ultimately know. The responsibility as always, is yours to make of it what you will.”
One last time: Humba Humba (for good measure).