As of yesterday, I have completed my summer job. I worked at computer game design camp as a lead instructor, and it was definitely an eye-opening experience. While I didn’t get an IT internship this summer as I’d previously hoped, I still think I spent the summer well in terms of employment.
I thought I knew a lot about working with kids, but I found there was plenty left to figure out the hard way. When I applied for the job, I didn’t expect to be in charge of a whole group of kids on my own, but the camp director decided that I had enough experience to warrant being a lead instructor for the camp. Being a lead instructor meant that I would be in charge of a class of twenty campers for a week, with another instructor assisting me. I worked at three different locations over the summer; sometimes there were other classes from our camp at the site, and sometimes it would just be me, the other instructor, and the campers at our location. My point is that I was suddenly in charge and had to act with authority, even when I didn’t know what I was doing. Turns out that being a figure of authority is quite difficult if you’re not used to it. The two hardest parts were talking to parents and mediating disputes between kids. Parents want to be reassured that they are dropping off their kids in a safe environment where they will have fun, and moreover that their kids are getting their tuition’s worth. They don’t want to see a lead instructor who doesn’t know what she’s doing who will leave the kids bored all day. Mediating kids’ disputes was even harder, I think. You want to be fair to the kids, but if you didn’t see what happened, it’s generally one’s word against the other’s and they probably are both at fault. I learned that the best thing to do is just to seperate them, and by the end of the day they will (hopefully) have forgotten whatever it was they were arguing about.
That’s not to say I didn’t have fun working at camp. Working with kids is rewarding for me partly because of all the funny things kids do. One day was particularly notorious in this sense. I had just brought the kids back from their afternoon recess and a couple had received injuries in the day’s dodgeball game. I had ice packs on hand, so I gave each kid an ice pack. Our ice packs consisted of a plastic bag of ammonium nitrate pellets and a smaller bag of water inside. When you break the smaller bag of water, the water reacts with the ammonium nitrate and an endothermic reaction occurs, making the whole bag ice cold. The problem with these packages is that the smaller bag of water is sometimes difficult to break. The best way is to squeeze the bag as though to pierce it, but this idea did not occur to the kids I gave ice packs to. Instead, they thought it would be more helpful to throw the ice packs on the floor. The other kids thought this was wildly hilarious, so even after the packs were cold, the kids kept throwing them on the floor. Sure enough, one of the thrown packs violently exploded and poured cold slush all over the floor. As if that wasn’t enough, another kid running toward me slid in the slush and kept sliding until he stopped right in front of me, smiling that, “Oops, I messed up but it was hilarious!” smile. It was just the perfect storm of hilarity, and I had to turn around very quickly so the kids didn’t see me laughing. The problem at that point was that the kids were out of their seats, laughing at the kid who fell, and making a mess with the spilled ice pack, and I had to get them back under control somehow. My solution was to turn around suddenly and yell, “All right! Everybody sit down!” in my best angry-camp-counselor voice, and then to chuckle to indicate that I still found the situation funny. It worked; the kids sat their butts down as soon as they thought I was really mad, but relaxed when I laughed. The only casualty of the day turned out to be the outfit of the kid who slid, which I’m afraid may have bleached under the influence of the chemicals.
Overall, I think being a camp counselor was a good experience for me. It was an enjoyable way to make money to last me this coming school year. Over the course of teaching kids how to make computer games, I also discovered that it is something I might want to do for a living someday. I don’t think I’d want to be a camp counselor all the time, but I think I would enjoy working in an elementary school teaching computer classes some day. Not only would I get to work with both computers and kids, but I would hopefully be able to improve kids’ chances of getting into programming, which is something I strongly believe should be taught in school much sooner than it is now.