I’ve never liked camping. I hate tents, I am deathly afraid of bears and I absolutely love indoor plumbing. When I started teaching Grade 8 for the first time 4 years ago, one of the expectations was to take them on the outdoor winter camp with all of the other Grade 8 classes from the school. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to that. Well, 4 years later and 2 years of being out of the Grade 8 classroom I still go with them to camp. I love that we stay in cabins (no tents), the bears are all hibernating (and there are no bears in Southern SK – at least that’s what I’ve convinced myself) and yes- we have indoor plumbing. Those are my personal reasons for going year after year. But the professional reasons are so much more amazing and inspiring.
My list of professional reasons I love camping with Grade 8 students:
1. Exposing students to new learning environments. 2 years ago, we were playing the popular night game called “Hide Hank”. Basically- find Hank the Dummy- get him back to the camp fire without another team discovering you. There are always a few students who try for the first 20 minutes and then straggle back to the camp fire and give up. That year, a student was looking up at the beautiful night sky and asked about “the pictures in the stars”. I knew he was referring to the constellations and I love talking constellations and the stories behind them. Together, we found Orion the Hunter, the Big Dipper, and various others. Another teacher yelled at me that I was doing too much teaching. I laughed because I knew that the student would have likely never had another opportunity to learn about the night sky in an open environment. The assessment of learning came the next night when I asked him where Orion was. He sure did remember and began reciting the story to his buddy.
2. Relationship building Being out of the classroom and in the library, I don’t get to work nearly as closely with them then I did in the past. This gives me an opportunity to see students in a different manner from the usual school walls. But in turn, the students get to see me and my colleagues as normal adults outside of the school. They get to see us a mothers (when we call home to wish our kids good night), as friends (when we joke around with the other staff or challenge each other to Trivia Crack) and as model leaders- someone they can trust and be open with.
3. PD for Me! : I observe. I try. I fail. I learn. The first time I went on the outdoor camp, I couldn’t relax. I was constantly on permanent supervision. I knew that the parents trusted us with their precious cargo. But as a full time supervisor I was just that- a supervisor. A parent gives their child opportunities to build trust and responsibility. After observing my fellow colleagues and how they would take a step back from the students, I realized that I too need learn to trust the students. So, I stepped back. Gave a little trust, only worried a bit (or maybe a lot) but the result was that the students took that little bit of responsibility and proved that they could be trusted. Now- starting a survival challenge- that is where I’ve failed on many attempts. Let’s just say that if you find yourself stranded with me- you are probably not gonna make it.
Although I am sure I have missed so much more of my experiences in camping with Grade 8 students, I haven’t slept in my bed in 2 days and I am ready to get back to the real world where I don’t have to share a bathroom with 30 other girls, I don’t have to wear 60 layers of clothing to freeze just a little less and I don’t have to wear “eau de campfire” any longer… Well at least until summer.