Your Potential to Change Lives

October 25, 2012

Guest post by Sarah Andes, a 2009 Mississippi Delta corps member, Teach for America

Summer camp is about discovery. New sports and hobbies. New friends and loves. New tans (at least if you’re in Texas). New songs. New independence. It’s all about creating and experiencing a community in which kids are free to explore and grow.

That’s why I loved Greene Family Camp at the time. I knew it as “fun.” Looking back on my experiences as a camper, counselor, and administrator, I now value camp for the unintended byproducts of those “fun” summers. I developed a set of values and beliefs at camp that have grounded the choices that I’ve made and the attitudes with which I have made them ever since.

Several years after my last summer at Greene, I once again packed up my belongings and loaded the car, but this time I was headed down a new path: east to the fertile farmland of the Mississippi Delta to begin my journey as a 2009 Teach for America corps member.

My approach toward teaching Algebra 1 at Williams-Sullivan High School, beyond the state standards and the lesson plan templates and the learned pedagogies, stemmed from the wise words of my brilliant camp director, Loui. He constantly impressed upon us the understanding that, to their parents, each of our campers was the most important child in the world. Each camper deserved our unceasing respect, attention, and care, and this philosophy guided me in cultivating an empowering community within my own classroom.

Loui urged us to “talk independently with each camper every day.” And as a teacher, I greeted my students at the door and checked in one-on-one as I collected their homework and they worked on the first activity of the day.

An administrator implored me to “say yes if you can.” And as a teacher, I worked to create a student-centered culture in which I facilitated students’ learning by validating what they knew (“yes!”) and pushing them to think more deeply and to apply new knowledge.

And my favorite, Loui’s mantra: “enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm.” As a teacher, I continued to make a fool of myself as I had years before. I sang math songs and made horrible jokes. I incorporated kinesthetic workouts and taught students algebra Taboo. I knew that I was the leader who had the power to make my classroom a joyful and exciting place to learn.

Being a good teacher is not being a good counselor. Your goal is not for your students to have a good time. Your students might not always want to be there. You are working within, rather than removed from, the pressures of your and your students’ day-to-day lives. But it is this challenge that drives me to continue working in schools and with students. The stresses may be new, but as I tackle them I can draw upon the experiences of my youth to frame my vision for the future. Education, too, is about discovery, and it’s my job to make sure all students, like all campers, are able to explore and grow. That’s a lesson I learned around the campfire a long time ago.   

American Camp Association is proud to partner with Teach For America. APPLY NOW to the 2013 Teach For America corps! Next application deadline: Friday November 2, 2012. If you’re interested in learning more, find out who we look for and learn about your potential to change lives.

Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado