The Case for Summer Camp

Pinemere_Camp_grounds.jpgBy Carl Anderson

I loved Marquette, and the experiences I had there changed my life. But the thing I miss most about my college experience is being able to work at Camp Lincoln for Boys in North-Central Minnesota. I was able to work there for every summer from 2008-2013. I’m jealous both of my little brothers are able to work there this summer. But more than anything else, working at summer camp is the best summer teacher training I can think of. I can’t recommend it enough for any pre-service teacher looking for a meaningful, impactful and transformative summer experience. I came up with a list of reasons everyone, but especially pre-service teachers, should work at summer camp.

  1. It’s really, really, really, hard, which gives you an idea of what makes teaching so hard. You think that it is a summer of being on a lake playing with kids. While it is partly that, you wear a ton of hats; you are a mentor, parent, role-model, older sibling, inspiration, friend and so much more to the campers and fellow staff. You gain respect for parents, because you’re with the kids 24/7. You understand what teachers have to do when they feel like crap but have to put on their teaching faces. You learn how to push campers to be their best—at whatever activity they are working on. You inspire their work ethic, self worth, sense of community, friendship-building skills and fun! Oh! And, if you’re lucky, you get a day off a week. So definitely not easy.
  2. It’s incredibly rewarding. When you get a letter from a parent after their kid has come home, and it says they see a more confident kid, who has a stronger sense of self-worth, cleans up after themselves, and understands perseverance, you swell with pride. You will see your campers grow every day. From learning to make their bed (a big skill for an 8-year-old!) to watching a 15-year-old become a leader for the whole camp, you know you’ve helped that camper excel.
  3. You build your classroom management skills in an environment where they get put to the test immediately. Imagine having 14 rambunctious 10-year-olds who don’t want to be quiet for rest hour, because they’ve got touch football after. How do you get them to stay calm? How do you reward desired behavior? There’s a group of kids upstairs you can’t see, how do you make sure they’re not causing trouble? I learned how do deal with all of those things my first week with campers as a 19-year-old. It has been invaluable for my classroom management skills in my teaching career.
  4. You discover you were meant to be a teacher. This cuts two ways. My particular experience at Camp Lincoln in 2008 and 2009 made me realize I should have listened to my mom when I applied to Marquette, and enrolled in the College of Education right away (I just didn’t want to be a clone of my Dad…so I teach English, not Social Studies). I went right in to my advisor in September of 2009 after Camp and worked out a way to be an Education major without sacrificing a summer at Camp. The other side is anyone who knew in their heart they wanted to be a teacher will have it affirmed by working at a summer camp.
  5. You will learn from amazing people how to be a better teacher. There is a legend at Camp Lincoln named John Heineman. He worked at Camp for years and is a teacher in Nebraska. He was Teacher of the Year there at least once. His tips for working with campers are things I use every day while I teach. From sitting side by side while talking to boys, or giving them something to play with while talking to you so they aren’t nervous, to knowing it is okay to be goofy because kids will love it when it is authentic– I use it all every day. I credit John and Camp for being the reason relationship building is my strongest skill as a teacher.
  6. Bonus! CFAB. CFAB is a saying from my Camp. It stands for Camp Friends Are Best. You will make friends for life. In the way MU Alums have a fantastic network of amazing Marquette friends, I also have an amazing network of Camp friends. I worked at camp for long enough that some of my camp friends were campers when I first met them, and then worked for me at Camp. And in the same way talking Marquette with other MU grads is an instant connection, talking Camp with other people from your Camp (and others too) is an instant connection as well. Finally, it makes traveling even more fun. I’ve visited Camp friends in Oklahoma, Chicago, Michigan, Miami, London, Liverpool, and will be meeting some in Dublin in August. Some of my Camp friends I haven’t seen in a couple years, but we’ll always pick up right where we left off.

I could keep going for a whole book (one of my Camp friends did write a book about why to work at Camp!), but these are six of the best reasons I can think of to work at Camp for every summer you are in college. I guarantee it will be one of the best experiences of your life.

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