Manning Park 180

I wrote in a post last year that planning and supervising overnight camping trips with students is a lot of work and can be quite stressful. But after taking students on camping trips for the last five years, I’m still a huge supporter of bringing students into the wild.  I see things in my students that I would never get to see if I had stayed in the classroom, and this allows me to be a better, more effective teacher.  However, despite all of the positives that come out in the overnight camping experience, I have to be prepared to deal with the negatives as well.

This year was a very different type of overnight experience.  Instead of a hiking into some remote backcountry destination, an early snowfall forced me to find camping in a fully serviced, provincial campground with all the amenities – hot showers, flush toilets – the full meal deal.  Being in a front country campsite (a campsite easily accessible by vehicle) also meant that we could make fires in the fire pits provided – a welcome reprieve from the freezing cold and wet that plagued us throughout the trip.  Instead of hiking to a peak with an amazing, high elevation view, we were on a mostly flat trails that took us past tranquil lakes and thundering waterfalls.  The amazing weather that has characterized all of my other trips was replaced by a mixture of driving rain, thick snow, hail, sunshine, and blue sky.  A four day trip turned into a three day trip because by the end of the second day we were wet, cold, and had hiked most everything we could safely access.  Despite the cold, the snow, the shoes that held more water than our water bottles, the aching bodies after 20kms of hiking, my students were overwhelming positive.  Surprisingly so.

But it is not always happy in hikerville.

Even though I saw a lot of positive things in my students over the three days, some shadows came out as well.  Negative habits, attitudes, dispositions, and personality traits pop up right along everything that’s positive.  And this is to be expected.  My guess is that any time you take students out of their comfort zone and put them in a place where they are exhausting themselves physically throughout the day and then have to eat, sleep, and live together for an extended period of time, whatever barriers and filters they’ve set up will begin to weaken. They begin to let down their guard.  Who they really are begins to shine through.  It’s this interplay between light and shadow that makes the overnight experience so valuable.

I love talking about the positive things I see in my students, but I won’t shy away from talking about the more negative things that show up either.  It’s only by acknowledging and coming to terms with the shadows that we can live more fully in the light.