I just spent a week on a Year 10 camp with 13 boys. While I can still top them hiking, sea kayaking and canoeing, a bruised shin testifies that they have better balance on mountain bikes than me. I had been told that I would be placed with the most physically capable students and that we would be pushed hard during the week. In this respect the camp was a slight disappointment as it was all well within everyone’s comfort zone.
I found the group dynamics really interesting. On the first day, a student started openly eating the group food one meal too early in an attempt to win approbation from his peers. The students also made it clear that they would try the patience of every outdoor education instructor assigned to supervise them for various skills (via nicknames, jellyfish fights, buried clothes, etc). Initially I observed this with a feeling of detached disappointment until the young outdoor ed instructor allocated to my group let me know that I should take a more active role in disciplining students. I had to think about this, as this was not what I was expecting to be doing on the camp. Over the coming days I seemed to strike an unspoken bargain with the students. I allowed them their fun: ribbing instructors, jumping over fires, swimming in the river, but when I said OK enough, they knew to rein it in and shut up.
One activity we were assigned was called the city challenge. We caught the train into the city and were given three hours to get to various checkpoints and answer questions about each checkpoint. The rules were that the group could not split up, use the internet, ask passers-by, and we had to carry our backpacks. The students heard the rules and asked, “what’s the point?” And I had to agree with them. Well meaning adults had designed a supposedly fun activity that had so many rules and regulations that the students found it ridiculous. It seemed like busy-work homework. So we agreed to pretend for a while before heading back out to the bush and back to more purposeful activity.
I used the nightly campfire sessions to do my teaching. I spoke to the students about how disappointed I was that the majority of good students stayed silent while one or two loud idiots set a negative tone, I singled out quiet acts of community and kindness for special mention, and I spoke to them about how difficult I was finding it treading the balance between knowing when to be a teacher and when to join in the water fights on the river. The instructor allocated to us described his role as being like the roller-cage on the downhill luge.
I did have fun on the camp and I’d do it again, I just didn’t expect to be playing the role that I ended up playing.
By the end of the week, the student who had proudly eaten the group food too early was being ostracised by his peers.
Most of my group wagged the final debrief back at school and went home early. Can’t say I blame them, it was a total waste of time. So that was my group. I’m still not sure if I did a good job with them, but that’s why I love teaching.