It’s been a few weeks since I’ve carved out the time to write.  My mind if teeming with ideas, both positive and not so much, but this is one that’s just presented itself to me today.

A little background, last week  on Thursday and Friday, we had our Sixth Grade Camp Out (in capital letters because it’s a big deal).  I’ve done this now 15 years, and each year, I go through these stages of excitement, dread, panic, and finally resignation.  Each year, we have a bang up awesome time and I cannot imagine NOT going.  This year was no different.  It was cool but sunny on Friday as we came out and did three outdoor activities: using GPS and waypoints to find/identify trees, going through our local corn maze, and a class on water safety.  The water safety is to prepare students for Friday when they would canoe on a local pond.  After we eat supper, we travel about 20 minutes and set up tents, get sleeping bags ready, all that camping stuff!  We then divide into two separate groups, one group working with “stories with holes” around the campfire while the other group takes a night hike with our naturalist.  She calls owls and does an activity with listening and identifying colors in the dark.  When they return, we swap out our groups and do it all again.  Finally, we have s’mores, hot chocolate, prepare for bed, and zonk out because we’ve been busy all day! 🙂

The next day, we get breakfast, with help from our administrators serving and our Boy Scouts cooking.  Our tents are cleaned up with gear taken out on the bus, then the tent zippered up to dry out.  We have three outdoor sessions: dissecting owl pellets, canoeing, then usually a group of environmental games.  We’ll have lunch, rotate through these three sessions, and pack it off to school just in time to go home.  It’s a time to get to know our students on a much different level.  To be outside, hiking, talking about silly things, breathing the crisp cool air, it’s hard to imagine that my school day is being paid for! 🙂  We have a great time and create memories that last much longer than sixth grade.

This year, a little different because we had rain all day on Friday.  We had to pull, stretch, and create on the fly as the rain came.  We took down tents in the rain and ended up back at school a little early and of course, it stopped raining.  Anyway, the kids had a ball, hearing all kinds of owls on Thursday night, eating s’mores, and generally enjoying the entire experience.  This camp out has never been in question.  We have parents who come, kids who love it, and I’ve heard at multiple open houses for graduating seniors, “Do you remember that time on camp out when……?”  This is a big deal in our community.

I’ve never been paid a penny for this.  Never even thought to ask. It’s just what we did for kids, period.  When I got to this school, it was introduced to me as “oh by the way, we’ll be camping in two weeks with the sixth graders!”  Wait, wait…..what??  It’s a full 12 hours, from 4:00 PM to 8:00 AM the next day that I am donating, not because I’m a good person, but because it’s just what we do.  This is being questioned, which has caused me to reflect a lot about what we do.  Do we as teachers give too much?  What would happen if this over night disappeared?  We’d still have Thursday and Friday, right?  What if we stopped donating our time when our contract said we could?  What if those meetings, large and small, weren’t able to happen?  What if we just stopped giving like we normally do?  What if I stopped purchasing extra supplies?  What if we didn’t do what we knew was right and good?

So many what if questions.  In a world full of doubt, this one thing should not be in the “what if” column.  Why in the world would we even think that our students don’t need this, especially those who need something different.  As my own thoughts about what school are changing, why would we not at least try to keep the things we know will keep students around?  Why would we “what if” and “I agree, but” something like this?   I will be the first to admit, doing it with two small kids was tough, heck, each time I go is tough because it’s a night without my daughters and wife.  But, my oldest daughter talks about her friends not having this experience and feeling sorry for them.  My wife volunteered (again) this year, and the students loved her ability to talk trash to me and keep them on task.  I value my contract, I do.  But sometimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees, missing that, while the contract protects us, sometimes, we just need to do the right thing.  This is one of those times.

Do I give too much? Yup, I do, drives my wife crazy too.  But in this case, I cannot imagine doing it any other way.  The other choice, to not give of ourselves, is that really going to create the world that we want?  I’d be hard pressed to say yes.

Besides, who can resist sleeping on the ground, eating s’mores, and being sung to by barred owls?  Not I! 🙂