Three weeks (five if you count staff training) at Lake Valley Camp and I'm pretty sure my life has changed forever. I feel like I've just come back from an internship a good distance from home, which is silly because it wasn't a residency and I went home every night.
I was not in an entry level position. I don't think they have those at summer camps. There was no way to sit back and observe, to start at the shallow end of the pool. There was training, and then there was a room filled with children. My credentials at First Stage, coaching Forensics, and the in-school education I've done all over Milwaukee made it look like, on paper, I could be an excellent "Team Leader". And there are parts of the job that I did very well... I can lesson plan like nobody's business. I can tell a joke to a kid having a bad day, I can understand and empathize with teenage angst, I can teach a 9 year old that not knowing how to tie your shoes doesn't make you "slow" it just means you process things differently... I had a lot of good moments. But mostly I had failures.
I've written about failure before, when it comes to teaching my students that failure is nothing to fear. I try my best to create a space where we all feel safe enough to be brave, and if our bravery results in falling on our face, nobody is going to point and laugh at you. This is nothing short of a miracle, especially when the room holds young people whose lives are already ten times harder than mine. They aren't used to the opportunity to trust each other. All it takes is the first brave person to make mistakes and be applauded for it, and the fear starts to corrode. They have learned through multiple experiences that vulnerability and sensitivity are not virtues, and yet they still figure out how to create art together. That's up to them, and that's a struggle they'll face outside of the one week I get to have them in class. Hopefully they've walked away with some tools and experiences for their whole lives.
My failures were not huge ones - Nobody quit, nobody went home crying, nobody got hurt and nobody died. My failures were in the simple tasks, the inability to catch up, the teachable moments that occurred where I instead stayed petrified in indecision. My classroom was a mess. Transitions between tasks took too long. My coworker struggled to work with me because I kept stepping on her toes. I didn't command authority and got little respect the first week. I depended too much on my boss to make small decisions. I generally had little idea about end results and could only focus on the moment. The days went by slowly, getting a little better but never any easier. I let the stress get to me to the point where my home life was a blur of television and sleep - thank goodness for boyfriends who do dishes. By my last Thursday, just two days ago, I found this article that confirmed to me that I wasn't cut out to be a teacher. That I needed to go back to school for engineering and meanwhile get a job washing dishes - spend my time working alone, where the worst thing I could screw up would have nothing to do with children.
By Friday, yesterday, I watched as my students ran their own parent presentation and leapt up from their seats to spout some Shakespeare. I acknowledged them all for their bravery. Maybe that's all I need to do for myself, too.