I’m trying to be kinder to myself this time around and I think part of that is patting myself on the back when I do a damn good job. And I did a damn good job.
Last week, I taught a winter camp for five days: Monday-Friday. It was twenty students. I boasted a few weeks back (on facebook) that 47 students actually signed up for my class. The teacher in charge of the winter class schedule had to narrow down students. The way she did so: winners and participants of the English contest were awarded first dibs, then the remaining slots were filled by highest English grade.
My school really pressured me to do a writing camp but I knew 5 days of writing would be too much for even my most advanced students. Buuuut knowing my school demographic, there are a lot of artists so I integrated a lot of speaking, writing, creating and drawing into my lessons.
Rough outline of my camp
Day 1: Identity and About Me Poems
Day 2: Coat of Arms
Day 3: Beauty Standards
Day 4: (Scrapped my original lesson) Card Game Relay
Day 5: Creative Project
I wanted my camp to focus on identity and self expression. The identity lesson was a lot of us brainstorming ways in which people are different and different identities people can have. My students were confused at first but the more we brainstormed, the more I could see it making sense. I asked for a volunteer and I had that student stand next to me. I asked the rest of the students how we are different. I got answers like “You’re tall. She’s short. You’re American. She’s Korean. Your hair is different. You’re a teacher, she’s a student. You wear glasses, she doesn’t.” When students got too focused on appearance, I asked my student volunteer questions: Do you have a hobby? Do you go to church? Are you the oldest child in your family? When our answers to these questions were different, students started to understand a bit about more complex identities. The “About Me Poems” were a template that students just had to follow but they were very creative with it. After everyone finished, I had them tape their work to the wall and gave everyone stickers. I told them to walk around, read each other’s poems, and give them a “like” by putting a sticker on it. It was a very cute activity. Every student’s work was bejeweled with lil hearts and stars.
The Coat of Arms lesson is something I snagged from another teacher years ago. It’s a very good first or second lesson because it helps you get to know students. Giving them time to create a symbolic image of who they are and what they care about really worked well for the theme of this camp. After they created their image, they discussed what their picture meant in their group. I then had groups vote on the one they liked the most and that person shared with the class.
The next day was so wrought with technical difficulties and general oopsies that the lesson was only about an hour long. It was supposed to be a two part lesson, part one: beauty standards around the world (them filling in the Korean bit), and part two: a body positivity lesson but it didn’t quite work out that way. But I ended up making things work and students were still engaged. I even saw some note-taking while they were learning about other countries.
Because the beauty lesson kinda fell apart and ended up being a lot of reading for the students, I decided to give them a break and have a day of games instead. I had the students get into 4 groups. I taught each group a game: “Liar” (aka BS), Spoons, Kemps, and Slaps (Egyptian Ratscrew). Since I had to teach each group individually, I let them do whatever they wanted while they waited for me. For Kemps, you need an even number so make sure the first group you teach it to has an even number of students. Once every group learned their game, I gave them 20 minutes to play and then I had one student from each group go to the next group and explain their game. Each rotation, I asked that a different student move. This way every student gets to learn the new games and the groups become thoroughly mixed. One reason I did this was because my winter class was comprised of first and second grade. Because of this, students tended to clique up. By having the groups mix up in order to play games, I found them talking to each other more comfortably.
The creative project was something I conjured up and let them work on on their own.
I’m really proud of myself. Minus the one day of struggle, I did really well. I had been really nervous leading up to the camp. I worried if students would like the class topics and activities. I worried about who exactly would be in my classes. I worried about class atmosphere given the students were from different homerooms and grades. I was worried about my coteacher popping up without warning. I was also worried because second grade had never experienced me as their main teacher before. I didn’t often talk for more than 10 minutes in their classes. My coteacher also translated a lot, so I was concerned about how they’d feel when there was no translation available. But I honestly had nothing to worry about. I had the most motivated and enthusiastic students in my camp.
One of the reasons I love working with high school students is because they’re more fully developed mentally and emotionally. When I used to ask my elementary students what they wanted to be when they grew up, they never had an answer. But when I ask my high school students what they want to be or do, they have some idea. And if they don’t have an idea, they at least have a goal. I like being able to talk to my students about their interests and values which is why I centered this camp around the idea of identity. I think it is so crucial for students to full grasp their identity. Knowing who you are builds confidence and that is something I want to instill in my students in various realms of their life. This camp offered me the opportunity to get to know my students. About three days into camp, I had everyone’s name memorized and I got to see their personalities. I learned which students were more introverted, which were more extroverted and which ones stood out as leaders in their groups. I also got to see my students’ various talents. Many of my students are really skilled artistically or are just very creative. I also learned which of my students have lived abroad or plan to in the future.
On the last day, I was sad to see them go. While I will still have a semester with my current 1st graders, I know this marks an ending with my second graders. They will soon be third graders and their schedules will drastically change.
When I first came to this school, the busy and hectic schedule really shook me to my core. I’m used to having more downtime. I’m used to being able to lesson plan at school. I’m used to being able to spend time with students but because of my schedule, I was often running from one place to another. My stress levels were high all semester. My migraines were almost daily. I couldn’t sleep well at night. I worried about each and every lesson just because my anxiety was so high. Looking back at my posts, I can see the negative headspace I was in.
But now as this semester comes to a close, I realize that I’ve made the most connections at this school. There are so many kids who yearn to spend time with me. They’ll come see me when I’m in the office. They’ll stop me in the hallway or in the courtyard to chat. I have students who run up and hug me. They’ll chase after me just so we can walk together from the building to the front gate or bus stop. I feel loved and appreciated at this school. Not only by the students but by teachers as well. There are a handful of teachers that I can talk to (in Korean) about my day. I feel included in this school. I don’t know whether this is because I speak Korean better now or because of the more laid back environment. This school has really pushed me but from this experience, I have grown so much.
Ever since I began teaching, I’ve had one rule: A teacher must love their students. But I never realized how ultimately healing it is to be given that love back. I feel in my heart that I already miss these students. I miss them preemptively.