Age Ain’t Nothing but a Blunder

Here’s how I was hired for being old.

The previous summer I had worked for a brand new camp in a supervisory role. The next Spring I underwent extensive knee surgery. Running after 6 year olds and the 18 year olds paid to supervise them did not seem like the best medicine. But sitting around the house taught me that I don’t like to sit around the house, and I called my boss to talk jobs.

It was an odd conversation. He kept offering me strange roles, like drama director or aquatics facilitator. We left on “if you want it, we’ll find you a position”. I liked the camp. I didn’t like the thought of a Bart Simpson type summer. Let’s do it.

When I rolled up at orientation, all was clear – the average age of the counselors was 17. I have a decade of educational experience, including Jewish education in-line with the camp, but that’s not why I was rehired. You’re not wondering if so-and-so tagged you on Instagram? Welcome aboard.

And you know what? The staff was awesome. They loved the kids, they loved camp. They sang “Down by the Bay” for an entire 20 minute bus ride. Was there drama? Yes. Did they do dumb teenager things? Of course.1

But dealing with the counselors was my job, and the counselors made it rewarding. It was a great summer…except:

Our camp rents out the campus of a private high school for our facilities. Walking around with a bunch of 17-18 year olds, it was impossible for me to forget that the same people who were given ultimate responsibility over the lives of others would be trusted with absolutely nothing had they been on the campus 6 weeks earlier or 6 weeks later. They would have to ask to go to the bathroom, apologize for burping too loudly. They would lose points if their name wasn’t in the right corner of if they talked out of turn. Since the entire staff was white, they wouldn’t have to go through the B.F.-Skinner-dystopian-universe rigor of a “no excuses” school – walking silently through the hallway, having to sit on the floor until they earn a desk, or being named and shamed if they didn’t have the right test scores.

Come September, the same kids we trust to serve food, manage money, and care for miracles will be, at best, trusted with nothing. At worst? Treated like would-be criminals. That’s school; that’s nonsense.

One counselor said she liked working with me because “if the kids were bad, we could threaten to send them to Andrew”. Bonkers. On one level, I’ve reached old head status and I’m good with it. On another, I have, among teachers, a reputation for being “soft” with discipline. I’ve accepted it because it comes with respect for how I run my classroom.

But trusting kids shouldn’t be seen as weakness. One Robeson Senior would go through a full school day, work a shift at Wendy’s, and wake up to help a younger sibling get to school. I don’t feel like she needs my permission to pee.

Yes, there’s a difference between compulsory schooling and employment (which we can fix by making school more relevant). Yes, many students need help learning responsibility. Yes, I’m living in the high school bubble. But it’s utterly asinine – and this next part comes from administrators, teachers, and parents – that we demand teachers set a sky-high bar for academics while treating every kid like Nelson Muntz.

And not to jack #educolor , but remember it’s mostly white, privileged teachers like me enforcing these norms on people of color. Expectations, indeed.

Teachers, administrators, everyone: If you bought water-ice2, deposited money at a bank, or sent your kids to summer camp, you most-likely put a whole lot of faith in a child. There’s not reason that faith has to evaporate come September.

  1. Did you know people can have nostalgia over High School Musical? In related news, I’m out of beer 

  2. it’s not italian ice it’s water ice that’s in the Constitution get used to it 

One thought on “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Blunder

  1. Probably this is really obvious, but it’s extra-ludicrous that the same high school seniors who have to ask to pee in your class then show up in my class as college freshman just a few months later*. I have to un-teach them “ask before doing literally anything” and inform them that they have suddenly become adults. (I accomplish this by staring blankly and/or shrugging when they ask me whether they are allowed to do things that are not science-related.)

    Also no one gets Simpsons references anymore. YOU’RE OLD.

    *Yes, I’m aware that these are not the same individual kids. That would be awesome though! Tell them to apply to Rice! We are need-blind and Houston is very diverse.

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