Dear concerned parent,
Having been a counselor and head counselor, I agree with you that no child should go through humiliation, whether in camp or in school. I do think a few points were missed in your public letter titled Before You Single Out That Child…
“There’s no second chance to make a first impression.” Discipline in camp is not just another job description for the Head Counselor or staff. Rather, it’s essential to the safety of every child and adult, regardless of position.
I recall speaking with a parent of a camper who had an extremely hard time following any instructions from his counselors and head staff. At one point in the conversation, the mother asked: “Why is it such a big deal that he doesn’t listen? It’s camp. Let him have fun and let go a bit!” I responded: “Following the rules is not just to please authority, but most importantly for everyone’s safety.”
What happens when there’s a safety issue – a fire, a bear in the area or a physical fight between campers – and the staff gives time-sensitive instructions. The whole camp follows the instructions but one camper (who needs to “let go a bit”) does his own thing – not only does he endanger himself, his behavior will impact and possibly put others in harm’s way.
And just imagine this camper ends up being harmed, who will you be placing the responsibility on? Order and safety are major issues in camp and they need to be addressed on day one. Listening and following instructions are essential to the flow of camp.
Please put yourself in the head counselor’s shoes.
It’s the first day of camp. The shul is full of over 200 kids who are all hyped up for an amazing summer. The head counselor walks in, asks for silence and tries setting the tone for discipline that will keep the program under control for the next two months. (Camp rules & guidelines so that the kids have a safe and exciting summer).
Throughout all of this, there are one or two kids that are constantly making noise, talking, banging on the table, playing catch, and doing their best to attract attention to themselves instead of the head counselor.
As a head counselor, there are 2 options and different outcomes:
1. Say nothing and deal with that camper later. This gives the impression to all the 200+ kids sitting in the shul and the camper himself, that this summer you’ll get away with whatever trouble you’ll do, because this Head Counselor has no control and/or has a high tolerance over trouble-making and chutzpah.
2. Deal with it right away. This gives the impression to all the 200+ kids sitting in the shul and the camper himself, that this summer you’ll NOT get away with whatever trouble you’ll do, rather have fun while following the rules.
“You in the blue cap, get out of the shul right now!” is not the first step that head staff usually take. Rather, it’s the last option available. It comes after announcing “3-2-1 Shhhh”, and after asking for silence during the first-day speech, after making eye contact with the camper multiple times, maybe even snapping your finger once or twice, and after asking that camper specifically to be quiet.
After all of the above happening, the head staff (not wanting to jeopardize their authority and control on day one), are left with no other choice but to send the camper out.
In addition, most head staff (I can’t speak for all) don’t “bellow” and scream: “You in the blue cap, get out of the shul right now!” We point at the door and/or ask firmly to leave the shul. I don’t think it would be fair to call the kid in the blue cap a korban.
Let’s jump ahead to the first day of the school year or any day for that matter.
The teacher introduces himself (or herself), and all throughout, one of the students is constantly disturbing. Should the teacher go to the principal to tap the kid on the shoulder and whisper in his ear that talking is not allowed, or does the teacher send him out and deal with it later in order to keep the decorum in the classroom?
Humiliating a student or camper should never happen. Teachers and camp staff should go out of their way to make sure that children are in a safe and healthy environment. Before camp, staff undergoes training and head staff go through more training with mechanchim and professionals before and during the summer.
A child should never be humiliated. Staff should “be bothered” to figure out how to deal with the different situations that arise. And yes, campers with complicated situations and disciplinary issues throughout the year, need extra TLC, no matter how difficult.
(Another important detail to bear in mind: Many times, the camper making trouble the first day (and got sent out of the Shul) is the boy that has a hard time controlling himself in a classroom setting. It isn’t the first time he’s dealing with disciplinary issues.)
But with all of this said, after putting months and months of time, money, and effort in order to have the structure for your child to have the best, safest and most successful summer possible, the “boy in the blue cap” needs to be sent out of the shul.
Wishing all parents, staff and campers a happy and successful summer!
A former Head Counselor