DUMMERSTON—Billie Slade saved pennies in a jar for four years to attend her first teachers camp. Years later, she not only facilitates the camp she attended as a child, she also helps fellow teachers rediscover their love of teaching.
“This is a place where you will feel heard and you will be both inspired and you will inspire,” said Slade, who took over running the Green Mountain Camp’s (GMC) executive director in 2012.
GMC, a summer camp for girls since 1917, also runs a camp for school teachers. Slade calls the teacher’s camp an event of “personal renewal and professional development.”
Teaching is a calling as much as a profession, she said. Sometimes, teachers need a reminder why they do this job in the first place.
According to Slade, the five-day teacher’s camp focuses on reawakening the often burnt-out passion for teaching through workshops, participant-led discussions, rest, and time for reflection.
The camp also immerses teachers in a community of like-minded professionals who believe teaching is more than preparing kids for standardized tests.
“People recognize the chance to have their ideas heard,” she said.
It’s easy for teachers to lose sight of the heart of education in the crush of meeting standards or teaching scripts provided by their administrations, Slade continued.
For many teachers, the people they meet at teachers camp become their life-line during the school year. Participants reach out to one another for help with issues such as dealing with strict administrations, racism in the classroom, and testing concerns, said Slade.
Last summer, a reading specialist from Ohio was moved to tears when she remembered why she loved working with kids, Slade said.
According to Slade, the teacher had been working out of a broom closet. She was burnt out. She’d forgotten what was possible in her job and was simply focusing on getting through the day.
The camp doesn’t focus on a specific grade or subject like many education conferences, added Slade. Instead, it focuses on helping teachers recognize their unique gifts and courage within education systems that often look for “one-size-fits-all,” Slade said.
One camp activity includes teachers sharing a photo of themselves as children, said Slade. The goal, is to remember that they were once children and ask, how is this child showing up in my classroom every day?
Tom Hunter and Richard Scholtz started the Northwest Teachers Camp in Washington state in 1996. After Hunter’s death in 2008, the organization moved from Seattle to Green Mountain Camp in Dummerston.
Slade hopes more Vermont teachers will attend during the Aug. 1-6 session. This year, teachers from 10 U.S. states and Canada will trek to Dummerston, but few Vermont teachers ever come.
“Maybe Vermont teachers aren’t as frustrated,” she said with a laugh.
The five days provide 20 hours toward continuing education requirements “and the roots of amazing friendships,” Slade said.
As a society, we need to ask ourselves, what’s being lost through this push to standardized testing, said Slade.
She also noted that schools’ hyperfocus on teaching on computers severs kids from the natural world. It can also hamper students from lower income households whose families can’t afford computers.
Children bring their whole world to school with them, Slade said. They bring their family stress, their hunger, their sleepless nights listening to their parents fight. And don’t get Slade started on the trend of medicating young children.
“It’s not fair to kids to have a one-size-fits-all” education system, she said.
Second-year teacher Maryalice DeAngelis, who teaches fifth-grade in Florida, joins Slade on the deck of the director’s house at the Green Mountain Camp. She sorts letters for the young girls who call the camp home in the first part of the summer.
This is DeAngelis’ third summer working as a camp counselor to the GMC girls before the start of teachers camp. This is her second summer attending teachers camp.
“It’s just so full of love and healing,” she said.
DeAngelis spent approximately three or four years as a student teacher before taking over her own classroom.
She credits her experience at teacher’s camp and the people she met with supporting her as a new teacher.
“I feel courageous again to teach the way I know children learn best,” DeAngelis said.
She said her love of kids and a desire to inspire them led her to teaching.
DeAngelis said she believes that if children are allowed to be themselves, they will tell teachers what assistance they need to learn. This simple process is made exhausting by outside forces constantly telling teachers — and students — what to do.
Some districts in her area give teachers books containing scripts they must teach to, she said. Every teacher is expected to be on the same page on the same day.
While DeAngelis recognizes having scripts ensures kids don’t miss anything if they switch schools, the scripts don’t help kids develop well-rounded skills.
“Children are children, and they learn through playing,” she said. They learn less effectively through sitting all day and raising their hands.
One piece of off-the-script classroom work DeAngelis has carried with her from GMC is activities for community building.
While DeAngelis said she still teaches her school’s curriculum, her experience at teachers camp has “allowed me to make it work for who I am.”
She also credits her graduate school, Antioch University in New Hampshire, with teaching her how to “rock the boat just enough” to change systems without getting lost at sea.
“Teachers are makers of magic and this is a place for them to experience the magic rather than always having to be the magic-makers,” DeAngelis said.