My Journey with Camp (Part 3 of 3)

The next morning after my epiphany I got the news that the two biggest antagonists in my CIT program were being sent home for transgressions on their day off. A bit of me was sad; I didn’t want people to be sent home. But a larger side of me said, “Wow…God must really want me to pass this thing.” And so I set out to do it.

I gave devotions to my fellow CITS and even spoke to the whole camp as part of a chapel we did. The last week I shadowed a chief and stayed in a cabin. No major issues arose. When I sat down with my CIT director for my final evaluation I was confident. I got the sense he was not enormously impressed with me but it didn’t matter. I told him I had done what was expected of me as well as if not better than any of my peers. I think the big change here was not anything tangible it was simply a slight mental shift on my part. People were never going to treat me awesome everywhere, but that was not my responsibility. I simply had to do my best no matter what at all times. People could take it or leave it.

I passed my CIT.

My LIT was 11 summers ago. Since then I have been a chief all or parts of 6 summers. This summer I am a unit director. I plan activities and games, chapels and cabin bibles and am directly responsible for half the chiefs and campers in camp each week. It is in a word, unbelievable. Camp is amazing and fun, difficult and heartbreaking all at the same time. Without a doubt though, I love it. It is not the most glamorous or high-paying job and I realize many people may look at me and wonder why I am still doing this at 26. But overall I have gotten a tremendous amount of joy out of working at camp and will continue here for as long as I can.

My journey has not been short or simple. It has been marked by trials and missteps at every turn. But to close this long-winded episode of my life I’ll say this. God is there, however unnoticeably, working to turn you and me into the tools he desires to glorify him. And in that work, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.—Romans 8:28

 

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My Journey with Camp (Part 2 of 3)

I took the next summer off. I went on a summer missions trip with my church. I think some people attribute too much import to this experience in terms of my growth. Did it help me grow and mature? Certainly it did. Was it the magic bullet that led to what occurred the following summer? Not really. Life is complex and lots of factors work together to bring change and realization. I was in contact with the camp director during the winter. He said if I wanted to do the CIT program next summer I would be welcome to. I still remember that first day I got back to camp, walked into the dining hall and shaking the hand of my LIT director from two summers before. He was cordial and was glad to see me. I was happy to be back and determined to succeed with my second chance.

The CIT program involves serving camp in whatever way needed. In my summer it entailed washing the dishes at every meal and cleaning the shower house and bathrooms around camp daily. I still remember pushing my mop bucket up a small hill one morning a few days into the program and breaking down for a moment. This was becoming almost as difficult as LIT.

It got worse.

The CIT is a month long program and as the first couple weeks passed I realized (unbelievably and inexplicably) that I was failing in the same way I failed LIT. My relationships with most of my fellow CITs were awful and my behavior was suffering because of this. This is still a huge question mark for me. I have never been popular or well understood by the majority. But one of the best things about camp was that I got along with most people really well. I had friends, I talked to girls. It was a fantastic alternate universe to my life at home and school. But with LIT and CIT I just could not get along with most of my peers to save my life.

Again here I see a failure of leadership to recognize what I was going through and to understand why I might have been struggling. At one point I was pranked by having shaving cream put in and on my sleeping bag. I was furious and walked across camp to talk to my CIT director. He listened to me but only meekly told the guys to lay off me. No attempt to understand or work with me, just a meaningless reprimand and a desire for me to just get along. I’m not trying to place blame solely on my leaders but to acknowledge that when a person does not get along with a group it is not solely their fault.

At this point however I had the epiphany of my whole experience. One night I realized I could not let the actions of my peers result in me failing again. I had to grow up, do my work and make it impossible to fail.

And quite surprisingly…I did.

 

My Journey with Camp (Part 1 of 3)

I have had a long and fruitful experience at my camp. I have never fully explained my camp story to people. It has not been a secret; at times I have told people openly bits and pieces. Having returned to camp this summer in a leadership position I thought now would be an appropriate time to write out what my journey looked like to this point. I’m telling this story, my story, because I think it is unique and it ultimately served as a vital shaper of who I am today as a person, a leader and a Christian.

I started at camp at the age of 8 or 9. Not the youngest possible age but still pretty early. I started with one week a summer but enjoyed it so much that when I was 13 I went three weeks and four weeks when I was 14. At this point I was ready to move on from being a camper and pursue what I thought was the ultimate job: camp counselor or “chief” as we call them at my camp. My camp has a two year process before you become a chief. First you do a three week Leadership in training (LIT) program when you are 15. This involves a week of backpacking, a week of canoeing and a week rock climbing and on a ropes course. It’s an intense experience but as I prepared to go I felt pretty confident. I knew camp, I knew this was what I wanted and I knew this was the next step. I was ready.

LIT was hell.

There is no nicer was to put it. Aside from certain moments being overseas, doing the LIT was the most difficult thing I have ever done. The funny thing is the physical part wasn’t the hard part. I could out hike anyone and my canoeing and climbing skills were tenacious if not precocious. The difficult thing was getting along with the other boys on my trip; I did that terribly. My leaders responded by failing to understand what I was going through and interpreting my sometimes exasperating behavior as unacceptable. I do not claim to be perfect but at a root level I think I was treated unfairly. This next part probably won’t mean much to people outside of camp but it was ultimately a significant and low point of my life.

I failed LIT.

To move onto the next year, the Counselor in Training (CIT) program, I needed to pass. I had a long conversation with my LIT leader that last night. I think I remember almost pleading with him. But ultimately he thought I needed more time to grow and mature. The clearest memory I have of that night is just bawling in the tent in front of the others. I was convinced I was never going to return to camp.

Encouraging and Complicating…

I have had the opportunity to teach formally for an entire year (last year in the Czech Republic) and informally in a wide amount of places and contexts. Until last week however I had never observed an actual trained teacher teaching an actual high school class. A requirement of two of my classes this semester is to observe a total of 15 hours of classes and write a short paper about what I saw.

Though I have only had a couple months of official grad school education it was really interesting seeing theories and practices I have been learning about being used (and not) in the classroom. Most encouraging was seeing multiple teachers appearing to have the exact type of personality I have. Some of you who know me well probably have a good idea of what I’m talking about but for those who don’t I mean the following: Loud, witty, sarcastic and knowledgeable on their subject matter. It is somewhat affirming to see other people like me having also come to the conclusion that teaching was a good career choice.

The head teacher who arranged my observations did a great job giving me a wide variety of subject matter and levels within the entire department.  I watched a couple high level and AP level classes and also saw a few lower-level and remedial courses for students who struggle a bit more with academics. What I took away from this was that whether or not a teacher was particularly engaging, the “smarter”, “better” students were almost invariably attentive, quiet and paid attention. On the other hand the lower level students were invariably louder and disruptive regardless of what the teacher was doing. At best many just tuned out to whatever the class was doing (cellphones in class=total fail 99% of the time).

I realize my descriptions above are troublesome and might even come off as a bit judgmental. To be fair one class that was middle of the road that appeared to be extremely ADHD at the start of the period calmed down remarkably once the main activity (a debate) began. My main point is observing makes my goal of being an excellent teacher one day much more complicated. I’m learning all these great theories and practices that should result in the vast majority of students learning and excelling. My observations show that teaching some students is infinitely more difficult than any classroom discussion or book can relate. I don’t have any rock solid answers at this point except to note that observing actual classes was extremely worthwhile.

So about this teaching stuff…

Given the title of my blog I realize it might be a good idea to write a bit about my epic “Journey in Teaching” on occasion. So here’s a super exciting update.

I started graduate school a few weeks ago. For teaching. This amount of information is evidently never enough for people so I’m forced to add, “I’m getting my Masters in Teaching High School History.” Sounds pretentious doesn’t it? For the record, I wouldn’t mind teaching Geography or African Studies either if the opportunity presented itself.

If your interested, I’m going to Lesley University in Cambridge, which is actually a really good school for education. Overall I’m enjoying my classes so far but one thing has become readily apparent to me in the first couple weeks. People talk about education all the time and everybody apparently has the secret “to fixing our schools.” In reality there is very little consensus about what actually works. And the things most decent educators have figured out that does work is typically not what is going on in  the classrooms of our precious youth. A little disconcerting to say the least.

I can come off as somewhat negative at times but in actuality I’m often more positive than people give me credit for. Being a Christian, surprisingly enough lends itself to this. Let me end on a positive note. Tonight in class and a couple times in the last week I have realized (not for the first time) that I really want to teach. I want to be a teacher. I want to be in the classroom with students doing my thing. Going over concepts and teaching thinking skills. Not a simple or easy or even glamorous job but it’s what I want to do and I think that is pretty sweet.

Let’s not forget the fun…

This entry was inspired by church this past Sunday. During the sermon I kept thinking about how I would like to use my thoughts this summer at camp but realized that’s too far away. So I’m writing it down now while it’s fresh.

My church is doing a sermon series on family and each week identifying a room of a typical house with the bigger point. This week was on the “family room” where generations meet together. The overall point was how important bringing up your kids in the right way is so that they have the best opportunity to live a life of faith as well. The thing that struck me was that many parents err by being too intense about their faith. They are incredibly strict and/or mandate large amounts of prayer or Bible study. Perhaps they have ministry of their own that they focus on too much, to the detriment of their relationship with their kids. Regardless of how the intensity is expressed, the results are similar. The kids don’t feel the vibrancy of Christianity, they just feel restricted. When they leave home their first instinct is to do anything and everything they want that isn’t steeped in religion.  Note these parents aren’t bad, they almost certainly love their kids deeply. But the way they are passing on the faith is flawed.

What many Christians forget it seems is that following Jesus is fun! It is awesome and joyful and no matter how it looks for you it truly is the best way to live. This isn’t to say prayer, Bible study, or rules are bad or inappropriate, they are essential. But if they are given without any notion of freedom, joy or fun you risk falling into legalism and putting your child off from religion permanently.

I’m going to generalize a bit here but it seems like a lot of the more emergent Christian writers today are getting most of their writing fuel from the experience of growing up in an incredibly strict Christian environment and now are trying to come to terms with it. They know Jesus is great and don’t want to reject him outright but they are trying to match up real, true, joyful christianity with their decidedly miserable upbringing where everything involving God was at best a chore and at worst punishment.

One last thought. At my Christian camp that I have worked at many summer previously, there seems to be three main groups of kids. Kids who aren’t from Christian homes and are hostile to the gospel, kids who aren’t from Christians homes and are neutral (i.e. they haven’t thought about religion much) and finally, kids who have grown up in good, solid Christian homes who may even be Christians themselves. Now as you might expect the focus is almost always on the first two groups. Counselors long for the kid who doesn’t know God to get on fire for him in their week at camp. This is logical and good but I think we are mistaken if we ignore the “good” kids too much. Who knows what their home life might be? Camp might be the most fun experience they have involving Jesus in their entire childhood. I’ve had kids essentially tell me this more than once. By showing them that Christianity can be fun, they latch on to it with all their might. We must never forget the Gospel but we also must make sure that in presenting it we don’t neglect how truly good it is. In fact it is the best thing and any kid who doesn’t know that is going to be severely missing out. We can’t force kids to follow God but we can show them how truly good following him is.

Back to School…

Starting next week I start something I have been thinking about for over a year. Ever since I started to find my groove last year in the Czech Republic I have been thinking about becoming a teacher full-time.  To do so, getting my Masters in teaching was the next logical step. Now, after applying, getting in, buying books, and printing syllabi, my first classes are next Tuesday.

I am really excited to finally get this process started. Looking at my books I realize I will be interested by the subject material and completely qualified once I digest their contents. I am excited to be a teacher. I’m not excited to be busy.

If I had to think about it I don’t think I have been truly stressed-out busy, i.e. feeling like I had more stuff to do then I had time for, since my last year of college in 2007. This may seem strange to most people. Granted I have done a lot since I graduated but because not being stressed out is important to me I have always managed to stay not busy. Most people, Americans at least, like to be busy to the point of absurdity. The whole day must be planned out with varied and worthwhile activities. You must go, go, go until you reach a breaking point at which case you can take a vacation because hey, you deserve it.

I prefer to see what I have to get done, do it slowly, surely, and in good time and balance that with lots of not work time. I would rather have time to relax for an hour a day reading news or watching TV then to have no time for months and then vacation by “necessity.” My way it might be noted is quite a bit cheaper too.

Now I find myself with two part-time jobs and a full class load. I’ve always been pretty good with academics, I just hate the idea of being so busy I’m going to get stressed. I’m not asking for sympathy, a lot of people are in far worse, more stressful situations than mine that they can’t help.  I guess my only point is that starting next week I’m going to be busy and I can see both the positive and negative sides of the task ahead. Here goes nothing!