Almanac (Teaching) Life: Bloody school camps!


Photo: Russel Hansen


When he submitted his regular South Sydney Rabbitohs review last week, Russel Hansen shared that he was about to head off on a school camp. (Russel teaches at Faith Lutheran College in Tanunda.) After a message or three back and forth, he sent me the above photo but sans caption. My suggestion would be along the lines of ‘Survival Kit – Day 1’ on the understanding that the Foodland bag contained heaps more ‘goodies’ to withstand/blunt the demands/stresses of the following days.


I really enjoyed my 37-year teaching career which I spent in three different colleges. I’d do it again (give or take a few bloopers here and there) if I was transported back to the mid-70s and had to start out all over. It was a rich and rewarding life which I felt to be more of a calling than a career or a job.


The one excruciating blot on an otherwise enjoyable working landscape was bloody school camps. How I loathed them! Bear in mind the following context: I had already survived five years of boarding school followed by another six years of living in shared accommodation during my tertiary studies, so I was not unaccustomed to various privations and degrees of discomfort for over a decade.


I won’t hide from the reality that I’m a bit of a home body who prefers ‘the comforts of home’ and all that that phrase encompasses. I didn’t take kindly to the requirement that I forsake all of these for the comparative physical discomforts of spartan dormitories with, to say the very least, modest facilities. That wasn’t a good start but, in the circumstances, not something with which I was unfamiliar from my younger days but now endured under sufferance.


My main gripes were about the expectations and pressures placed on teachers in the camp setting. Firstly, it was a 24/7 tour of duty. Yes, in theory there may have been enough staff in attendance to allow for some sort of roster of hours on duty. But the reality was that, even in your ‘down time’ hours, you were still there and, by definition of your position, in a supervisory/responsible/in loco parentis role. There was no real break for the duration of the camp. I took my responsibilities seriously whether I was in charge of the camp or there as an assistant. I always felt it to be an unfair, inescapable and unrelenting burden of expectation. Over the years and in various settings, we worked out ways to cope, some perhaps a little more ‘stretching the boundaries’ in nature than others.


I always did the night shift on the first evening of camp. I wasn’t going to get any sleep anyway. The kids were invariably excited and restless that night so supervision duty was all about finding a balance between allowing for that unsettledness and yet containing it all sensibly and sensitively to reasonable limits. Not an easy ask when you’re stressed and the kids are just being kids.


The other thing that really taxed me was the reality that the buck of responsibility in both a duty of care and legal sense rested with me and my fellow staff members. It was like holding your breath from the moment the bus left the school campus until it stopped at the roundabout on return, hoping against hope that nothing untoward would transpire in that time. What could possibly go wrong? Well, just about anything and everything! Broken limbs, adolescent kids having tanties, ‘liaisons’, someone running away from camp, sudden illness, missing medications, smoking/drinking/substances issues, fights, and on and on. And, in the end, it’s all down to you to control the situation and resolve any of the myriad upheavals likely to occur. And don’t get me started on dealing with parents in these situations. I found this ‘ultimate responsibility’ aspect of the whole situation mentally crippling.


Perhaps I took it all too seriously, worried too much, and/or let it get to me more than I needed to. Maybe. But, in the end, I/we was answerable/responsible. All of these concerns played out with me being continually stressed and less than the reasonable, considerate, approachable teacher I was known to be on campus. I recall some less than flattering situations on camps when my interactions with kids and others were far from constructive. I squirm to think about them now.


So how much time and energy did all of that leave for me to enjoy camp? Not much, I can tell you. That’s not to say that there weren’t some good times and memorable positive moments now and then. But they’re dwarfed in my memory by the anxieties surrounding the issue of duty of care and legal responsibility. And remember that my time in these situations was decades ago when things were less litigious than now. I shudder at the possibilities these days. A current day, comprehensive ‘risk assessment plan’ must run to volumes!


Look, I’m the first to admit that camps are, by and large, good for kids (or, at least, for the great majority of kids); possibly for a lot of teachers, too – I don’t presume to speak for them. But, for any number of reasons outlined above, they just didn’t work for me. Let’s just say that I managed to survive.


I hope you had a good camp, Russel!



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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A loyal Queenslander, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. Enjoys travel, coffee and cake, reading, and has been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. One of Footy Almanac's online editors who enjoys the occasional editing opportunity to assist aspiring writers.

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