I really like my job. People don’t understand this. People who don’t work at my job, I mean. People who DO work at my job wholeheartedly understand why I keep coming back despite the long hours, isolated locations, close quarters, bad camp food, (sometimes) terrible coworkers, little pay, and seasonal employment. But we love our job.
We love it, for one reason, because kids are weird. Kids are freakin’ weird. Children have asked me the weirdest questions over the years, made the funniest statements, and generally made me laugh. This past week we got the tiniest child to wear the banana costume during dinner (yes, we have a banana costume).
Another reason is because we, the teachers, as well as the kids, are constantly learning new things. Our first season doing outdoor ed, my friend said to me: “This job is great! We get paid to LEARN!” (we’re very nerdy here).
Also: we get to do really REALLY fun things like stomp around in the river and look for animals. When I worked at the ocean site, I could take my groups down to the docks with a few buckets and nets, string, and a bag of leftover meat and spend a few hours catching crabs. Now that I’m back in the woods, along a Connecticut river, I get to take buckets and nets to the water and spend a couple hours catching crayfish and frogs. Do you get to do that at your job?
This week I tried a class that had previously terrified me. I never really understood it. But we had second through fifth graders this week, many of whom did not speak much English, and I figured I could take them to the river and have them catch creatures for an hour and a half and it would be fun and (sort of) educational.
And I was right: my students had so great a time, on the last day I took my group down for our final Field Group to the river to catch animals. They got wet, they picked up animals, they slipped on rocks, they climbed on everything, and had a wonderful time.
I had girls catching frogs with their bare hands, naming them, falling in love with these wild little creatures, wishing they could bring them home to New York with them (which they cannot). It was wonderful to see Girly Girl types bare-handing these precious amphibians and having zero qualms about getting dirty and tromping around in the mud and holding frogs.
I had another student, a boy, who caught a shit-ton of crayfish with just a net and his bare hands. He collected them all in a bucket and was determined to show them to his teacher even though we HAD TO RELEASE THEM AND GO BACK because they were loading the busses and they had to go home. But it was adorable that all he wanted to do was see just how many of these weird, tiny lobster, crustaceans he could collect.
It was almost exactly like catching crabs, which I also had to warm up to doing myself, and I loved every second of it. My mission, now that it’s warmer and nicer weather here in the northeast, is to take the buckets and nets out at least once, if not twice, a week and see how many of what my students can collect out of our waters. It was, by far, the most fun I have had in a very long time.
And, quite frankly, there’s really nothing greater than watching children do something they might never get to do at home or with their families, or in their daily lives; either because they simply don’t have the opportunity, or because their parents won’t let them do things like go down to the stream and catch frogs. I always was intrigued, as a kid, by characters in movies and books who just ran around the neighborhood and rode their bikes to bodies of water and caught frogs and fish and tried to bring them home. As a kid I never would have known how to do these things. No one ever showed me and I wasn’t allowed to leave the yard, unless I was riding a bike (not my bike, a bike, I never had my own bike) and even then I could only ride it around the portion of the street where we lived. I assume many kids get an upbringing like mine, one where I had many restrictions on what and where I could do and go, and I want those kids to be comfortable in the outdoors and open up to things like getting dirty and being knee deep in a river solely for the purpose of scooping up a tadpole or fish or crab or whatever.
While I had restrictions while at home, I also have an outdoorsy mother who did take me places where I could get dirty and encouraged me to spend time in and appreciate nature. She made me environmentally aware and for that I am forever grateful. I am glad that I figured out how to be in the outdoors on my own, as a grownup, but I do appreciate her appreciation and passing that on to me. I don’t plan on having children of my own and therefore the best way I can pass on what my mother gave to me is to work with children in the outdoors and help them be comfortable exploring the outdoors.
I know I can’t do this forever, but while I still have the energy I am very happy to be doing this. I do wish it were more year round; however, I am still very happy to be doing what I can. I really do love my job. My job is not odd; it is not stress-free; it is not “normal” — all that is definitely part of what keeps me coming back.