Sunday, February 15, 2015

There's Something about Working in the Mountains

I work a job where I am on the clock 22.5 hours a day, 5 days week. I work a job where I spend more time walking around, retrieving extra forks and drinks at meals than actually sitting down and eating. I work a job where I maybe have time to shower once during the week. I work a job where I have to use every trick, tip, song and dance I've learned in my years of working with children on a daily basis.

My job is hard, and my job is fantastic. But at the end of the week I have given everything I have to give; it's all been laid out for the kids I take care of every week. My brain is mush by the time I drive out of the gates Friday afternoon.

We, as an instructional staff, have a lot of responsibility and expectations placed on us to do an exceptional job. At summer camp, the children's parents put on the pressure to keep their kids happy and healthy in a very active setting. In outdoor education, that same standard applies but with the additional responsibility of meeting their teachers' expectations that you teach their students lessons better than they could have in their classroom, otherwise half the point of coming all the way up the mountain is gone.

I expected, coming into this job, that the formal teaching part of the job would be the aspect that I would find easier and corralling a cabin of girls would be the part I would struggle with. That, as it turns out, is completely opposite. Spending time with my cabins of 5th to 8th grade girls has been, well, I won't say a breeze because that make it sound too easy, but it's been the most fun part of the job.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy teaching the classes. But it's been more difficult than I originally anticipated simply because I didn't arrive having a good depth of knowledge of the curriculum. I have never studied Forest Ecology or Aerodynamics, and now, I teach three hour lessons on the subjects.

Being able to teach those classes didn't happen by magic. We have all had to devote a significant portion of our weekend to interpreting and planning these lessons. My house, called Onacrest, tends to prep at the same time, so we can all figure it out together and tap into the knowledge of the returning staff. Fortunately, I work with a very diverse group. We all have a wide array of skills, all relating to the field of Outdoor Education, and we often times find ourselves sitting around the staff lounge during our precious off time trading tips and information on tactics that worked in the 26 classes we have to be able to teach.

Each time I teach a class, it gets a little bit better. The first time I taught Orienteering, all of my 16 kids went wandering in the woods, despite my instructions that they must stay within sight of me. Saying that class was stressful is the biggest understatement I could ever make. The second time I taught that class, I knew I had to drop the hammer early, and because I knew I had to be a lot stricter, all of my kids stay within sight and completed the activity. So I know I am not perfect, but I can see myself getting better at what I do.

Working in the Outdoor Education and Camp Industry, like most fields that deal with kids, requires an exceptional amount of self sacrifice. In the first two weeks of camp, everyone and I mean everyone caught the plague and worked through it with smiles and as much cheer as it was possible to muster. It can be difficult to find the time to go to the bathroom during the day, let alone take care of any other personal needs, yet you would never know it by looking around at my coworkers. Our job is to make what we do seem easy and natural, smiling through every adversity. No one does it perfectly, but I have been impressed with how well we as a staff cheerfully greet the very real struggles in our jobs.

In the very little time I have for self reflection and self evaluation, I have been wondering what I get out of the work that makes it so enjoyable to me because on paper, it sounds miserable. The most glaring reward I get, the one everyone talks about, is the satisfaction of giving kids an experience unlike most others they've had in their lives. Kids are almost uniformly sad to leave camp. They load the busses amidst declarations that they never want to leave or want to bring the whole family to live at camp.

But that is not all that I get from this job. The rewards that make this job worth doing may seem nonsensical, but to me they make all the difference.

I get...

To have a trash picking up party every Friday while listening to what the musical geniuses that are Lil Debbie, Nicki Minaj and Ke$ha have provided the world.

A place to use my ridiculously bad dances moves in a nonjudgmental environment in both planned and impromptu dance parties.

To tap into the vast experience of +50 coworkers to become better at my job.

To spend almost all day outside hiking, climbing and playing among the trees.

An incredible support system for all my personal and professional triumphs and shortcomings and the ability to share in my friends' successes and struggles.

5 Valentines dates who are excited to get dressed up to go to a burger restaurant.

The opportunity to live in the mountains with stunning views, clear(ish) air, and now this is the most important part for me, weather that has been in the 60s during February.

To live in the same house with some truly wonderful and hilarious humans who are rapidly become some of my best friends. One of these people is a really incredible artist and was kind enough to let me use some of his photos to show you all the San Bernardino Mountains. All these photos are Avery Meaux.

My house Onacrest back when there was actual snow. #DCH

It's hard to beat having views like this every day.

We actually live above the clouds. 

I love my job. I love how hard it is. I love the people I work with. I have spent so much time going out into the world and trying to find myself, trying to figure out who exactly I am and where I want to go. I don't have it all figured out, who does, but being in places like this affirms that I am in a place where I belong. I look around at my coworkers singing at the top of their lungs and consoling the homesick campers and know that I am in the right field. Seeing them I can't help but thinking "these are my people; I am home" and feeling incredibly lucky to be able to lay out everything I have each week for the sake of the kids and the benefit of my coworkers.

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