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What I Learned at Summer Camp

by Katie Condon Condon.Katie@MacPhail.org

Before last week, I hadn’t been to  camp since attending “Legionville”, a school patrol camp,  in 5th grade. Maybe that experience scarred me, but I’ve always been a somewhat reluctant camper. However, last week was a revelation. The camp in questions was an arts camp at the YMCA Beacons program in north Minneapolis. MacPhail was responsible for teaching a few different offerings: strings to 35 third, fourth and fifth graders, bucket drumming, and beatboxing. I helped teach general music/musicianship as a part of the strings program. After taking the weekend to reflect on it, here are some crucial things that I learned.

1.      Kids’ behavior isn’t always about me.

I won’t lie- there were some tough kids there. But as I got to know them and observe them, I noticed a lot of little things. It was clear that many of them were very tired- to the point that it affected their ability to focus, concentrate, and even sit up. Sleep deprivation, inconsistent schedules, lack of structure at home, and poor eating habits were clearly issues. There were times I felt like I tried every trick in the book and still didn’t have great success. At that point, I realized there are things beyond my control. All the classroom management tricks in the world can’t solve some of the larger societal issues we face. In these situations, be kind to yourself and remember you are trying your best.

 2.   Kids are kids. And they are funny, and they will surprise you.

Because some of these kids come from rough circumstances, it is easy to underestimate how much these kids know and how much they can do. They like rap, and they also like Beethoven. They like to have fun, and if you turn the lesson objective into a game, they want to play it.

 3    I learn so much from my colleagues.

The opportunity to see others teach is the most valuable and worthwhile kind of professional development in the world.

I had the privilege and pleasure to teach with Kate Gordhamer, Leif Peterson, Julia Reeves, and Carolyn Liptak. I learned something (or more than one thing) from each one of them. I saw David Birrow and Andy Myers’ bucket drumming group perform at the final concert and know that they did equally amazing work.

 4.    Explicitly stated goals help establish and maintain focus.

This is IMPORTANT. The camp was funded by a grant that required us to play five pieces at the final performance. Without this clear, direct goal, it would have been easy to make excuses: the kids aren’t ready for this, we don’t have time to learn five pieces, etc. Instead, we didn’t have a lot of choice, and it really helped focus our daily lesson plans. Instead of compromising our goals (three pieces are as good as five, right?), we had to be creative in our lesson planning and teaching approach.

5.    Teamwork is essential. None of us can do this alone.

Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of teaching in a big team, as I did at this camp. But we can share collective wisdom through conversations with our colleagues, through observing others, through reading and keeping up on best practices.

Camp was exhausting, but fun. I might not wait another 25 years before I decide to do this again.

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