Monday, June 6, 2011

Teacher heaven

As I mentioned in my last post, I am currently working at a summer camp in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I worked here in 2008 and 2009 as a teaching assistant for Algebra I, but this year I'm switching things up and working in the geometry classroom. Even though the kids have only been here since Sunday, already it seems like we've been here a week!

Sunday was move in day for the students, so starting around 10am, all of the staffers reported to the parking lot to begin moving kids in. We have 151 campers this year, and there was scarcely a moment when we didn't have a trunk or suitcase to lug up 3 flights of stairs in 100 degree heat! After about 6 hours, 5 water bottles, 4 gatorades, and likely buckets of sweat, I finally had finished my move-in duties.

One of the things that I love about my job here is that I get to work so closely with a small group of students. There are 14 in my class and this enables me to get to know their personalities and mathematical abilities rather quickly. I'm also in the classroom with them for more than 100 hours throughout the program, so of course I'm going to get to know them super well! I also get to work closely with an RA group in the dorm, and even though I don't have to, I enjoy going to dinner with them and visiting with the guys when they are in the dorm. Already I've probably met about three-quarters of the boys in the program and am remembering now how good I am with names. I think it really makes a difference to them that I go out of my way to get to know them and check on them.

Of course, I love this job because it reminds me how much I love learning, teaching, and working with students. It's a satisfying feeling to work with nerds, help them to embrace their intelligence, and reveal to them that being smart actually is pretty cool. ADVANCE is a place where everyone can reveal their true selves and be completely accepted, even with all of their eccentricities. Hah. In fact, that's what people celebrate here!

It's funny too, because the preeminent eccentricity of my personality that presents itself here is that I am "the Catholic guy." No, not "The Catholic Guy," for you Sirius/XM users. Hah. Just myself. I guess it's pretty cool that my Catholicism is such a part of my identity that people recognize it so quickly! As usual, my Franciscan cross necklace and St. Padre Pio/St. Francis of Assisi key chain spark a lot of questions. Oh, and the rosary ring on my key chain. I even pulled out the rosary from my pocket to explain it a little bit to someone who asked.

And what a great blessing to be able to answer such questions without fear of losing my job! This whole year working in public school I felt like I had to stifle this essential component of my identity. And finally, rather than feeling stifled, it is again celebrated! I think that after this year of teaching I probably needed ADVANCE more than these campers.

Having spoken to my mom the other night, she was excited to hear that I was back to sounding like her "Ben." I'm afraid that all of my stressed out, frustrated phone calls home were quite stressful for her as well. But as I told her last night, ADVANCE is like teacher heaven. Yes, TEACHER HEAVEN! During a meeting with the RA group with which I am working, the boys were getting a little talkative while my roommate, their RA (who is also my cousin!) was talking. I used my "strong voice" and said, "Boys, what is the first rule of respect?" They quickly got quiet and someone responded, "Don't talk when someone else is talking," in a sheepish, little "Oops I got him mad" tone. I LOVED IT. And I actually had to work extremely hard to hold back tears of joy that children were finally respecting me! I'm not used to that after this year. It's so refreshing to see when discipline works.

Several of us on staff have worked in education, and our Assistant Director is so happy to have us here so that we can experience the joy of teaching again. I'm still not sure what God has in store for me this fall, but I know that "God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).

I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel,

who even at night directs my heart.

I keep the Lord ever in my sight:

since He is at my right hand, I shall stand firm.

And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;

even my body shall rest in safety. (Psalm 16:7-9)

May we all trust in the Lord who keeps His promises!

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