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Counselors Are Teachers
As Ms. Olsen questioned her captive audience about the digestive functions of a shark, her student campers actively participated with one arm raised as the symbol of the Socratic method while the other arm was busy dissecting the shark mold on the table. Ms. Olsen had effectively transformed the outdoor park pavilion into an interactive biology laboratory where campers learned by doing. In her staff tank top, khaki shorts, and Birkenstock sandals, Ms. Olsen could express herself among the canopy of oak trees and fallen palm fronds as the camp science instructor. She engaged her campers in a hands-on biology lesson because she had done it numerous times previously in her other life as a classroom teacher.
Why Is it Beneficial to Have Certified Teachers as Lead Counselors and Instructors?
Teachers often transmit an air of control amid the organized chaos that is camp. They have taught social studies and geometry and still managed to find ways to hold the fleeting attention span of students in a classroom. Now, at summer camp, their mission to hold attention spans becomes easier because all of the activities are inherently fun — it's camp! When things start to verge on out-of-control at a scheduled activity, a teacher emits enough authority to calm the situation. After all, this is what teachers do all year round, and if they like it enough to apply for a position at a summer camp, then their summer evolves into a logical extension of their working lives. It's second nature to them; the surroundings simply turn more natural. Furthermore, who better to have in charge of discipline than a certified teacher?
Discipline as a Crucial Element of Teaching
Cooperative Precamp Training Remains Vital to the Lifeblood of Camp
As camp owners, directors, unit heads, and other lead staff plan precamp orientation for the entire incoming staff, the administrative team cannot forget about the power of "camp consulting." Past counselors and specialists often have gems of pertinent knowledge they like to share with new staff members. Remember to consult with your top returning staff to gain valuable input regarding the training sessions. Former counselors who are teachers during the school year possess the natural ability to do just that — teach. Let the returning teacher-counselors teach some of the areas of the orientation, whether leading role playing simulations involving homesick camper scenarios or showing new staff how a day-in-the-life of a counselor really is out in the field. Strong lead counselors and specialists who are strong teachers love to teach — that is why it is important to keep teachers in mind in the staffing and subsequent training process.
At Camp Live Oak . . . .
Can teachers adjust to the more lax settings of camp and get down on their much younger campers' level? Does it work when a staff is comprised of counselors ages fifteen through fifty? Yes! At Camp Live Oak, it has worked for fifteen years. Actually, certified teachers form the core of the staff at Live Oak and come back year after year to spend their summers outdoors and still be in their element. For example, Ms. Olsen has been the science instructor at the camp for five years and is assisting in the precamp training for the upcoming summer. Based on past parent evaluations, many parents were reassured to hear the calming voice of their children's teacher-counselors as these staff members performed their routine precamp calls to parents. Teachers put everyone involved with their camp at ease.
Are Teachers Learning, Too, and Becoming Better Leaders While at Camp?
Seth Herschthal is currently the administrative director of Camp Live Oak in South Florida. After graduating from Duke University with a B.A. in public policy in 2001, he taught at a bilingual school in the Dominican Republic for one year. Herschthal has worked in camps as a counselor and in outdoor education programs. In 2004, he will begin a master's program in school leadership at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.
Originally published in the 2004 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.