This past week was the W.O. Smith Summer Sleep Away camp. The camp takes place once a year and is help in White Bluff, Tennessee. Nearly 80 W.O. Smith Students come to camp. They have a rigorous schedule for five days which involves three hours of musical theater rehearsal in the mornings, one hour of choir rehearsal, one hour of private lessons, one hour of ensemble rehearsal, one hour of music theory, and mandatory practice and study time. I participated in this camp as a member of the W.O. Smith staff. Besides assisting in the day-to-day running of the camp, my responsibilities included teaching six students beginning piano and teaching an advanced theory class of four students. Needless to say, my days were full. At first, I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of teaching a group class and beginning piano students. I had never done either before. I had experience teaching guitar because I had taught guitar at W.O. Smith for the past three years. However, teaching a group of students is an entirely different situation than teaching an individual student. Teaching guitar is entirely different than teaching piano.
When I arrived at camp Sunday afternoon, I busily planned for the arrival of the campers the next morning. I optimistically assembled my theory class, complete with a keyboard, giant pad of paper and easel, hand-held dry erase boards, flash cards, and extra pencils. I realized after my first theory class Monday morning that I had forgotten one thing - structure. I never anticipated being a disciplinarian in my class room. It was obvious that even though all four of my students were in high school and within four years of my age, they treated me as an authority figure. I could tell that they were testing me to see how I would handle my position as an authority figure. On the second day, there was a new addition to my theory class - a list of rules posted on the wall. The rules were: 1) No talking, 2) No saying "I can't," 3) Do your homework, 4) Pass the class. I made it clear that they were going to work hard and pass this class not because I wanted them to, but because they could do it. I told them that they were all clearly very smart and capable and that I believed in them. After than, I was sure to hold them accountable to the rules. I almost felt that they were hungry for structure. Rules pushed them to excellence. On the last day, every single one of my students passed their final theory test that I had written for them. Lynn Adelman, the assistant director of W.O. Smith, told me that she can't remember a theory teacher ever doing this. The camp has been going on for over 20 years with 10 theory classes each year, usually taught by professional instructors.
My piano students presented another problem. I taught three hour segments of two students each. Instead of splitting the hour between both students, I had each pair select a duet that they were going to play together at the final recital on Saturday. Getting students to work together cooperatively and maturely who were as young as 12 years old was challenging, to say the least. I emphasized accountability and teamwork and made each student feel like he or she had to do his or her part to take care of and help the other. My pairs of students became close friends, and I saw them spending time together outside of their classes. I used yoga and games to teach lessons like relaxation and the importance of maintaining a positive attitude. In the end, all six played in front of an audience of over 200 parents and fellow peers, some of them for the first time.
This past week has been both the most difficult and the most rewarding week of my life. I have never been given so much responsibility or been presented with so many challenges. I encountered deep-rooted misconceptions I had about myself and about my community. I learned how to believe in myself for the sake of others. I encouraged kids who thought that they couldn't do something to prove themselves wrong. I didn't let myself give up, and I finally understand why certain problems still exist. Why? Because few people are willing to take on the difficulty of entangling themselves in the lives of strangers. Below I have included excerpts from a survey given to W.O. Smith students on the last day of camp. I have transcribed the words of the students exactly.
Please write some praise for at least three people involved in the summer camp.
Miss Cayla because she helped me believe I could do more. I passed my theory.
Ms. Cayla - she challenged us in theory and I learned intervals. I learned intervals and my ear can now tune better.
Jessie, Mackey, and the dance teacher - I love them! I learned how to do variations and now I know how to play a duet.
The first person I would like to thank is Cayla, my theory teacher, for putting her absolute effort forward throughout the week. It really paid off. I have learned more about theory this summer than ever before. I think that is really awesome because you think about what you know and want to strive harder to do better.