I’m often asked why I spend my summers off from teaching running camp. The most “in a nutshell” answer is that I want to change the world, but that usually doesn’t help with the whole people-thinking-I’m-crazy thing. Go figure.
So here’s just one of the many reasons: I want to be a booster.
When I think about the non-related adults from my childhood, there are two distinct groups about whom the memories remain vivid.
The first group is unfortunately not so positive. Let’s call them barriers.
- The swimming instructor who made me repeat the same level for three years, simply because I refused to be pushed backwards off the diving board (I think it was supposed to be a “recovery” drill.) When I moved to a different pool I passed two levels above it on the first try. I have never felt confident as a swimmer.
- The local music teacher who picked favourites and despite giving private lessons to most of the budding singers in the area, never “had room in the schedule” for me.
- The drama teacher who type-cast me as a dancer and never gave me the opportunity to try anything different. Years later, despite 30+ theatre credits on my resume, I still feel self-conscious about my acting ability.
Of course I realize there are other sides to these stories that I am not considering here. I am not intending to dig up ancient grudges by mentioning these anecdotes. These memories were made when I was a child/early teen and are coloured by my viewpoint and experience of that time. But what is important to focus on that despite the incomplete picture they may represent, they are the memories as I saw them at the time and they have had a lasting effect on my confidence. What a child is able to see and understand is what is remembered, and what is remembered is what has the potential to shape the future.
But there was another group of adults in my life, too. Let’s call them boosters.
- The dance teacher who recognized my vocal talent and arranged for opportunities to showcase it. Let me emphasize that: that’s right, she was a DANCE teacher. It wasn’t even her area of expertise. But she saw something in me that she thought should be encouraged, and she made it happen. MANY doors in my future were opened when she made that simple choice. (RIP, Maureen. <3)
- The vocal instructor who squeezed me into her schedule (as a result my dance teacher’s – and my mother’s – persistence) so I could get the qualifications I needed to study music at university.
- The teacher I had in grade 4 who listened to me talk way more than my fair share and encouraged my strange obsession with turning my bedroom into a hobbit hole (and even donated some props for the cause).
- The house league soccer coach who took me on as an assistant coach when I was a teenager and taught me how to organize a practice, keep kids busy and happy, and teach them something at the same time. (This is really where my destiny as a teacher was forged.)
In both the barrier and booster stories, the adult involved was in a position of authority, and there was a potential for either fostering or inhibiting growth. The only difference is whether the adult’s actions helped (booster) or hindered (barrier).
In my own close circle of friends there are both parents and (currently) non-parents. Whether they have their own children or not, they are all united by the fact that they LOVE my kids. In the short time that my boys have been alive in this world they have been guided and praised by their own little team of cheerleaders. They have encouraged them as they learned to sit upright, held their hands as they learned to stand, and let them bite their fingers as their teeth came in. As I think about them growing older in this crazy world, I am comforted knowing that they have this team of adult non-relatives who are rooting for them. And hopefully, they will find some other boosters (teachers, coaches, parents of friends) in our community as their own circles widen.
This is one of the main reasons I started Maple Key. In every child’s life there are countless adults who have the power to make a difference. If we’re lucky, we have more boosters than barriers. Camp is a magical place where we have the power to create a culture that is FULL of boosters. (If you haven’t read about the 40 Developmental Assets you need to. It’s important – whether you have kids or not.)
This is what we have to do. We have to be champions for these kids and build them up so that the odds are skewed in their favour. When they go out in the world and encounter people whose actions will tear them down (and they will – it’s inevitable) they will have the confidence and the resilience to ignore them and just keep on truckin’.