This was my third year spending July working at an overnight English summer camp in the breathtaking Pyrenees mountains in Cerler, Spain.
This summer featured two big firsts for me – (1) I was a coordinator for Camp 1; and (2) I worked both Camp 1 and Camp 2, four weeks and not just two.
Technically I am hired by the camp to be a classroom English teacher. But just like in a school, the title “teacher” only highlights one minor role that you actually play.
Here is just a small sampling of the roles that I play at camp:
- ALARM CLOCK: On weekdays, on-duty teachers receive a wake-up call at 7:45 in order to wake the children at 8:15. When I’m on-duty, I begin waking the children with a double knock on the door while simultaneously pushing it open and saying in a gentle and quiet voice, “good morning.” I make my way into the room and over to the drapes to draw them open and let in the blinding sunshine. Then, I start to pull blankets off of the beds and if they still don’t show signs of life I threaten to open the balcony door and let in the cool mountain air. But what works 9 times out of 10 is when I threaten to sing – that really gets them going. I usually start with “Good Morning to You,” (to the tune of “Happy Birthday”) and then the select few who still refuse to move are treated to my very moving rendition of “Rise and Shine and Kick up the Glory, Glory” (while looking up the lyrics just now, I see it’s actually “and give God your Glory, Glory”).
- LINE LEADER: The camp takes place in a hotel and a lot of time is spent going up and down the stairs. At 9:50 each class meets at their designated spot outside of the bedrooms on the first and second floors. We then walk up to our classrooms (a hotel room without the beds and with make shift tables and lawn chairs) on the third or fourth floor. Class 1 ends at 10:50 and we head back down the stairs and outside to the break area where the children have a snack. At 11:10 it’s back up to the room for Class 2. At 12:00 it’s back down the stairs and outside for break time when the sports equipment comes out. At 12:20 it’s back up for Class 3. And at 1:10 it’s down to the dining room for lunch.
- LOCKSMITH: This is one of my favorite roles just because the kids are so amazed the first time they see me uncoil a paperclip and snake it into a hole in the center of the door handle to the bathroom. With the paperclip in place and a little jiggle of the handle back and forth, the bathroom door that involuntarily locks from the outside at the most inopportune times, is once again unlocked. This happens multiple times a week in all different rooms and it makes me wonder if the regular guests are issued a paperclip along with their room keys.
- DISCIPLINARIAN: We of course want camp to be fun for the kids and not feel like being at school. But with 90+ kids in a small hotel space, discipline is a must.
- A common scenario for the disciplinarian is asking a kid to pick up a balled wad of paper (or anything else) from under his chair in the dining room. He instinctively answers, and almost before the teacher has finished the request, “It’s not mine.” And even though it’s apparent that paper has only been torn from his part of the tablecloth, he believes in all his heart that that paper is not his. I almost cried for joy when after a week of this happening regularly with one girl, one day she replied, “It’s not mine . . . but I’ll pick it up anyway.”
- Bedtime can be a struggle getting the children to sleep – and then keeping them asleep. After the teachers go off-duty around midnight, the children do their best to sneak around and have “parties” in their friends’ rooms. It’s pretty entertaining how atrocious they are at the sneaking part. It sounds like the running of the bulls with the slamming of one door signaling the beginning of the event. Then the pounding of feet as the stampede makes its way down the hall and finally, the slamming of the second door to indicate that the bulls, I mean kids, think they have safely made it to the other side.
- CHOREOGRAPHER: This is a role that I never thought I’d play and really should not play as I have so little musical talent that when I was brave enough to take salsa classes years ago, the teacher grabbed me to help her demonstrate something and just as quickly sent me back to my spot to look for anyone else to take my place.
- And so I have become a reluctant choreographer when preparing the class for the end of camp presentation. This year in Camp 1 I had a group of eleven boys, 10-12 years old. When we went through the camp songbook on the first day of class it was obvious that Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” was their overwhelming favorite. So for the next week and a half the boys focused on memorizing the lyrics and we made props like chains and a giant Miley Cyrus head for one of the kids to wear. I helped them come up with dance moves that would make the song understandable for the audience. For the line, “I never hit so hard in love,” Manuel, the boy on the end of the line made it look like he was punching the guy next to him, Beto, and then there was a domino reaction of the rest of the line making it look like they were falling over. We practiced a million times and it went smoothly a million times. But, during the performance Manuel actually made contact with Beto’s face – by accident. Beto was so shocked that he stood there looking at his good friend Manuel for so long that he missed the next couple of lines in the song. It was hilarious – um, I mean memorable.
There are so many other roles that I play, like: social worker/cheerleader/cheerer-upper; U.S. cultural ambassador; and on and on.
As a coordinator, I donned even more hats that are unique to the position – and the one I felt least qualified for (and was least qualified for) was playing camp nurse. With all of the adventures (or ‘misadventures’ would probably be more accurate) that role provided, it deserves a blog entry all its own; so hopefully sometime soon I can share those with you.