If I were to change careers (something I think all teachers consider every Monday morning), at the top of the list would be “Karaoke DJ.” Beekeeper, baby goat cuddler, and sloth handler are also on the list. But karaoke is something I am very passionate about, and this week I got to live that dream for three nights as I accidentally became a camp counselor for four days for our 3rd-11th graders during our school’s annual Week Without Walls
Something I want to add to my list of things to probably never get around to is to write a book about all the things that no one tells you about teaching. You don’t start teaching because you like being on email threads between twenty people that could easily be answered with one face to face conversation, or because you’re passionate about standardized testing, or because of the joy of fresh expo markers (although that first perfectly drawn line…). You don’t even get into teaching just because you’re hot for history or math or whatever. The money is terrible, the hours are crazy, the clients unruly and rarely satisfied.
You only get into teaching because you love kids. But what they don’t tell you is that the job isn’t over at 3:30 when the bell rings, you don’t actually get all weekends off, and your role isn’t only played in the classroom. Nope. There are always what we like to joke about at my school – “other duties as assigned.” Which for me meant emceeing karaoke jams for 3rd-11th graders and staff from a stage with lights and a fog machine and really really loud speakers. #myheavenonearth
But that hadn’t been my plan. This week I needed to sit and complete the yearbook, which is due in two days. But because I really had to do that, (and still do), and because it means editing and approving 88 pages of content and then making 12 more, therefore sitting at a computer and focusing . . . everything else sounded like way more fun. So I convinced myself I’d work better under pressure if only given 48 hours to finish the yearbook; that I’d work better if inspired by time with the kids I was making it for.
And so instead of at a desk, alone and in silence, I found myself in a truck on the way to the sitio where a local church we partner with has a lot of events and hosts a kind of bible college. This meant we had a handful of 20-somethings there, ready to serve and help in any way they could, including cooking and cleaning and loving all our kids, and even us. I had packed a bag for two nights – one with grades 3-5 and one with grades 6-11. Due to a number of somewhat frustrating circumstances that in the end I was grateful for, I stayed three nights. I smelled terrible, having not packed enough. But the fun we had far outweighed my smell. I hope.
The thing is, I love camp. I’ve been a camper or counselor for as long as I can remember. Camp is a part of every summer, helping me grow up. It’s the echoes of a dining hall, midnight hikes, winning clean cabin awards, singing embarrassing songs because your mom sent you mail. It’s raiding the boys cabins to sneak a note to your boyfriend for the week, and campfire songs, and archery and ziplines and sleeping under the stars.
I learned how to shave my legs and how to milk a goat and had my first drink at summer camps. We played ping pong and made up skits and exchanged addresses at the end, promising to be penpals until next year, when we’d for sure sign up for the same week again, and we’d definitely be best friends forEVER.
And as a counselor, I’ve watched kids do things they’ve never done before – be without mom and dad saving them, work through their own problems, ride a horse, take a shower alone for the first time (at the cancer camp I worked at), clean up after themselves. They hike, kayak, sing silly songs. They think deeply, they’re outside more, they learn and stretch and grow. I kind of think we’re all a better version of ourselves at camp.
I was frustrated about some things this week . . . the incessant rain, at my lack of clothes due to being stranded at the camp. Things changed so often it felt like there was no real plan for the week. We were flying by the seat of our pants. A lot of the time felt like we were herding cats and repeating obvious directions. As I get older, I realize more and more how much value there is in planning and communication. And we could have used a bit more of that on this trip with all the moving parts involved. Flexibility is sexy but I feel much more comfortable with a plan.
But my long-standing philosophy about trips like this, developed after years of mission trips and camps, and stolen from people much smarter and more forgiving and flexible than I can sometimes be, is defining success as “nobody dies, and everybody hears about Jesus.”
And that happened. They made friends with people they’ve never been friends with. Connected with their teachers and staff. Broke down crying and thought deeply about changes they might need to make in their lives. They watched their teachers be really goofy and they felt safe being goofy and we just funned our brains out. All this despite the rain, despite the chaos, despite the last minute changes. We laughed until we cried, we shared stories, they screamed like I was Beyonce in the flesh as I belted out “Let it Go” during karaoke, they had beautiful moments of clarity and kindness with each other.
They were still punks some of the time, still pushed the limits, still talked smack in Portuguese and even dropped f-bombs the morning we were leaving, after spending the night before in worship and in the prayer room. But even the few kids that came up to me and said they hadn’t even wanted to come, but now knew why God had brought them – that made it all worth it.
If anything, I think the population at our school just needed a space to break down walls between themselves. And in the end, only they can really do that – we as teachers can plan events and have meetings and discipline and pray about the harmony we’d like on campus, but it’s really up to the students to decide to be as happy as they’re allowed to be, and to understand that we want nothing less than what’s best for them, even if that includes rules or policies or agendas they don’t yet understand. My greatest hope is that this “camp high” doesn’t disappear this Monday – that our kids come back still loving each other and those of us that shared the journey as fiercely as we loved each other there. That we’re as open and funny and free as one can be at camp.
And now . . . now I’m as tired as I’ve ever been. I’ve showered four times and still don’t feel clean. I’m making sure beer still tastes the same. I’m full from a great dinner with the coworkers that have become family, where we downloaded the highs and lows of the week of camp, promising each other it was worth it all in the end and laughing at all the mishaps and crazy stories, like kids talking in their sleep, or not understanding when dogs are “making babies.” I’m shuffling through all the photos at 1:30am and trying to make the yearbook come together by Tuesday morning and I think that if I can laugh and cry about it all means it’s good.
Nobody died. Everybody heard about Jesus. I got to know my students better and I got to karaoke Adele with a freaking fog machine. Life is good.
If you need to hear it, and you haven’t yet today – I’d let you sleep on the top bunk.