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"Outdoor Ed" or "Way to step up parents!"

Every year for three days the 6th grade of Claire Lilienthal goes to the Marin Headlands for outdoor ed. Lisa asked me if I wanted to go and while I wasn't too enthused about the idea of helping ride her close to 60 6th grades she pleaded and batted her big green eyes at me and I knew I was roped in. I didn't think it would be that bad though I was nervous about the amount of work I needed to work on. I spent a lot of Sunday working on Red Sparrow and some other projects so I wouldn't have to worry about keeping caught up on things while I was gone.
Monday I was up at the crack of dawn...Lisa's usual rising hour and accompanied her to the school. We had stayed up too late the night before for a variety of reasons...phone calls and packing for the trip and finally stumbled off to bed after midnight. I have gotten old and boring in my old age and if I'm not in bed by 10:30 I get very very grumpy.

Monday wasn't actually too bad. We made it to the headlands...I followed the school busses in Lisa's car, we got the kids unloaded and their stuff in their dorms, the groups were divided up and we were off. We had enough parents so I followed Lisa's group around. Each group has a leader from the headlands and some representative from the school and the groups weren't larger than 12 or 13 per group.
The first day we learned the ABC (abiotic, biotic and cultural.) As we hiked to the top of a hill and later to a small pond to collect and analyze water the kids were told to peel their eyes for ABC factors and decide if they were beneficial or harmful. I was in the C group and the kids had been so ingrained that every little human created thing they saw was bad it was kind of disheartening. I did point out that some of the stuff we saw maybe was actually beneficial so by the time we got to the little bit of water we were going to analyze they had decided that maybe the cultural (ie human) impact maybe had a neutral impact.

Later that evening we went on a night hike. It was really neat but (of course,) no matter how many times they had been told to dress WARM and BE READY...we had to wait on a number of kids who showed up in shorts and light T-shirts to run back to their dorms and put on a bunch of layers. We missed the sunset but the beach was still pretty amazing. I learned that it takes about 45 minutes for your night vision to fully kick in..and any bright light can take it away...and it'll take another 45 minutes for your eyes to totally adjust again.
We hiked up a rather treacherous hill in the dark...(well, not totally dark...there was a half moon) and lay there as the counselor read to us a story about the Pleiades. It was one I hadn't heard before...it came from the Onadaga tribe and was pretty neat. I wished there had been some actual SCIENCE taught...a little bit of astronomy. Some of the kids around me I pointed out some of the stars and explained a bit about blue stars (HOT AND YOUNG) and red stars (OLD AND COOL AND BIG) and how the Pleiades was actually full of hundreds of stars and it was like a star baby making chamber. Not my program...but again...I wished more actual science was being taught while we've been here.

The night was fairly uneventful. This place used to be an army barracks so all the Claire Lilienthal girls and some girls from other schools are all stuffed in a large room crammed full of bunkbeds. Lisa read a story from Robert Fulgam and then it was lights out. She sat on the top bunk with me and we could hear tiny little whispers that gave way to a soft snore here...and then some heavy breathing there until the room felt heavy and deep with the slumber of a hundred or so exhausted girls and their leaders.
It was a rough night for me though. My sleeping bag came open and I realized halfway through the night I was just sleeping on a plastic sheet with my sleeping bag on top of me.

Today I found myself much more irritated...along with the other CL teachers I think. I guess in years past the parents have really stepped up and have come up to help ride herd with the kids and accompany them on the hikes and help ride herd in the dorms. This year we had one mother the first day who (thank you) spend the night and one dad who came up to spend the night. Today it was just the 3 CL teachers and me...so I got taken out of my group with Lisa and put in charge of my own.
It was fun for the most part but I was still cranky that I was put in charge with a bunch of kids that I wasn't teaching and wasn't parenting. Frankly I was surprised that CL had let the trip be scheduled if the parents were so unwilling to actually volunteer and help. The teachers aren't getting any extra compensation to babysit the precious little snowflakes for THREE DAYS...which includes spending the night and it's frankly exhausting. If I were the teachers I'd be absolutely livid and refuse to do it again next year unless 5 parents a DAY (and NIGHT) came up to help. If the parents are so gung ho about the trip...they can jolly well come up and freakin' HELP. I'm not sure what they would have done if I hadn't come up.

Anyway...my group was run by a guy who wasn't nearly as in command of the kids as the counselor in my previous group. I think it's one of the sad truths that if you try to win over a bunch of kids by initially trying to be their friend...they are going to run right over you. I chuckle to myself thinking of Caesar what's his face (Milan)...the Dog Whisperer who is constantly telling the owners that they have to DOMINATE the animal. With teaching I think you need to establish that you're the boss...the big ol' alpha...and THEN you can play with them. If you want to play first...they'll totally out alpha you and you'll never get them back. Course...I'm not in charge of any kids on a regular basis and I sure don't have any of my own so what the heck do I know?

The actual SCIENCE we did today was fun though. He had them crumple paper and place it on the ground and then we looked at them as if they were actual mountains. We marked the mountain ranges and tried to make predictions where the water would flow and collect. I learned a few things and found the exercise informative.
We also talked a little bit about geology...we saw a river otter come out when we were out on the beach and totally frolic around. I'd never seen an otter that close not in a zoo. It was pretty amazing and so far has been the hi-light of trip for me. It looked like it was having an absolute blast completely by itself. (a fun factoid I learned...the river otters are relatively new there and they like to eat the endangered pelicans. Apparently they swim up underneath and grab them by their necks and hold them under to drown them. He looked so uncomfortable saying this (especially that the river otters were going for an endangered species) that it completely cracked me up.
"See?" I told the kids. "Humans aren't responsible for EVERYTHING."

I guess I haven't been sure what to expect on this trip. I like the science part and wish there was actually a lot more and a lot harder science. I would say ... especially today that it's been 20% science and 80% social conditioning. Teamwork games are fun...but when every other lecture is punctuated with it...it gets a bit wearisome. Lisa tells me it depends on what leader you have...but when they have an activity where they are told to design "their perfect community" with zero discussion on what actually makes a community...and doesn't discuss the things human communities need to survive...it's a little eye rolling for me.

On the plus side...I had some terrific conversations with the kids as we hiked. Everything from their personal philosophies to their family life to what's going on with so and so and their favorite cartoon characters and what they think about life...and how cool is Miss Eller and was she happy before she met me because they think she's pretty happy and is it true she can do pull-ups with her fingertips. (yes.) I asked them questions and they answered and it was really, really rewarding.

Tonight we still had no parents show up and Miss Carrie (the other 6th grade teacher) was beyond livid. Can't say that I blame her. The boys apparently were little monsters the previous night in the dorm and so a CL meeting was called and she laid down the law. Any infractiion from ANYBODY tonight....and the entire 6th grade was going to have to write an essay AND have additional homework over spring break. She freaked ME out and I'm not even a 6th grader. I joked with her later that I half expected her head to spin around.
Its 9:45 now and I am again surrounded by heavy breathing and little snores here in the girls dorm. Lisa is perched next to me like a night hawk, her ears attuned for little whispers so she can swoop down on them like an owl on a mouse. I hope things are equally sedate in the boys dorm.
I've heard it said we are always one generation from total savagery and being here...I can believe it. I've also seen great kindnesses from these kids and moments of extreme empathy and Christlike behavior (though you certainly can't say THAT in a school setting.) I like these kids...and like me...I want them to have a good spring break.

I also want them to drive their flakey parents absolutely up the barking wall.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 19th, 2008 01:09 pm (UTC)
Having been a camp counselor for many years, I can say you're absolutely right - dealing with a group of kids, especially a group that isn't yours, you need to step up and establish yourself as alpha RIGHT AWAY. Otherwise they'll push and push and push until you snap. If you make yourself alpha, they'll push a little, then settle down for the most part. And THEN you can be their friend and do cool stuff.

*rubs temples*

Tell that to a hippie-dippie-trippy "let's be friends" teacher or head counselor, though, and they'll look at you like you're nuts and try to keep you from reining the kids in at all. Because you shouldn't treat the little animals as though you're working with dogs. Even though the same principles really do apply.

...I don't recommend scruffing children, though. They kick.
Mar. 19th, 2008 02:50 pm (UTC)
That's not only true in camp/at school. My brother-in-law and his wife had that "hippy-dippy" philosophy about raising their own kids ... until they found themselves with a marauding horde of 5, all under the age of 8. They still haven't been able to get control of their brood, and the 13-year-old is the dictionary definition of "problem teenager" already. It's hard for me to bite my tongue and not say "you totally brought this upon yourselves", especially since I am happily and deliberately childfree. But really, they did. It's kind of sad.

(I was headed into teaching, many many moons ago ... fortunately, things turned out much differently. I don't think I could've handled it for more than a year or two.)
Mar. 19th, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC)
Not being a parent and not having plans to be a parent, I try to stay out of that end of the pool. But you're absolutely right, and I've watched more than my share of meltdowns from "let's be friends" as opposed to "let's be PARENTS" techniques. Assuming you can even call the former a technique.

I've always said that I'd never teach at anything other than the collegiate level. I'd end up in jail for killing the kids.
Mar. 19th, 2008 03:38 pm (UTC)
"Humans aren't responsible for EVERYTHING."

While that is true, perhaps it isn't applicable in this case. Many invasive species arrive at their new grounds thanks to man, whether it be critters brought in as pets, or for a purpose (such as the mongoose on Maui), or if it's stowaways (such as the zebra muscles causing so much problems in the world's waters). I have no idea if such is the case with these river otters.

(I used to live in the small town which first (accidentally) imported the Japanese beetle to North America.)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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