Now that we’ve got the traumas out of the way… Time for the best bits. Working with kids is like no other job in the world. You never have to feel stupid or ridiculous. There’s an energy in the air that replaces the led weight of an office filled with that hollow echo of typing. With kids you could end up with glitter in your shoes, you could find yourself playing army corporal as you march your class up the stairs or you just might realise one break that, yes, you actually are wearing a deflated football as a cap and pretending to be the Pope. Anything goes, anything could happen – and as long as nobody dies, everything is okay.
Highlight 1: an impromptu rave one lunch time was potentially my favourite experience of the whole camp. The moment our hip-happening shimmying shaking coordinator burst into the gym, speakers blaring, with a fellow teacher breaking it down in tow, I knew we’d all lost our minds. But that was okay. And only in Italy, in the height of exhaustion, would I have reacted the way I did. I looked around at the kids, frozen in horrified surprise, I blinked to make sure it was real, and then I whipped out the lasso, the washing machine, so much body popping – it was all coming out, in this hall full of 9-13-year-olds. And once the kids had finally accepted that this was actually happening (and once one of them had filmed it on his phone) they made a Step-Up kinda circle, laughed, joined in and lived it up in that precious thirty minutes of their break time. And when the music finally stopped? Please please can we again next break? (Insert Italian accent). Flash dance WINNING.
Highlight 2: the redemption of musical statues. That’s right, folks, muggins here attempted musical statues for the second time. It was a fool’s mission, but tiny class 1 had just completely lost all concentration. Their parts in Old MacDonald in the final performance were just too darn complicated for a hot mid-week afternoon (I mean the pig had one hell of a backstory, he was pink and he went oink oink) and some of them just couldn’t handle the excitement. So I decided – time to harness the energy and – screw it – join in. If you can’t beat them, join them. So on went Happy (Pharrel was a MUCH better choice than the ABCs) and round I went, clapping, spinning, swinging them round. Little Danny took over the speaker and squealed every time someone lost the balance of their frozen pose. I taught him to Pat-a-cake like a champ. Viola learnt that if she jumped aboard me, I would spin her around (and this she NEVER forgot…) It was awesome. I had learned how to play all over again.
Highlight 3: teacher bonding time. This is an absolute necessity. Because there will be times when you want to tear your hair out or tear out someone else’s and it’s probably for the best if you don’t. Which is why you take a box of wine into the mountains instead, to have a picnic with a stunning view followed by touristy silhouette pictures and a whole lotta Whitney. Spritz every night, a sing along on every walk, story-telling every staff room visit and plenty of coffee breaks in between and you soon no each other pretty darn well.
Highlight 4: feasts with the fams. I can’t express enough how great my host family were to me. Every meal, there would be a delicious antipasti to start (which I mistakenly shoveled down in vast quantities the first night, assuming this was the whole meal…) Next would come golden baked pizza, or gorgeously rich seafood risotto, or perhaps a savoury tart. There was usually a Spritz involved and sometimes even Limoncello and ice cream (my host Dad, it turns out, is a genius). The cat would even join us as we caught up, my poor host rents chatting away in English even through that post-work wall of exhaustion, explaining Turin’s invention of the Breadstick like true tourist guides. I don’t know if it’s the Italian culture or the particular family I was with, but meals around that table, with the kids fussing over the food or the football match on TV or the strange English lady at the table – it felt like a second home.
Final highlight: fittingly, the final performance. This had been lurking over us for the whole two weeks. The chance for the kids to show their parents what they’d learned and how amazing they were (and the chance to find out how well the teachers had done, of course). Many a rehearsal ended with my attempt at a stern voice (this play could be great, but at the moment, it’s not. Because you guys need to show each other respect. – I got all teacher on their asses). So we were all a little, let’s say, stressed. The auditorium was a tiny room and we just weren’t sure it would fit the students in once their parents had taken seats. They would just have to watch the wall instead… if they could even see that… After a dress rehearsal straight out of a horror film (think zombies and humans tearing each other apart, without all the blood everywhere) we were all a little tense. The parents were arriving for the big event and we were trying to get the kids to shut up. I was in charge of the music. There were cameras poised and an expectant hush. And then the kids blew it out of the water. They remembered their lines, they behaved, they got all the right laughs in all the right places. They spoke perfect English. The dance moves were to die for. There were a few musical glitches (sorry kids…) but other than that, it was all as smooth as spreadable butter. The crowd went nuts for them and, completely unjustifiably (the kids did all the work), I felt a little well of pride.
So when the end of the play signaled the end of the camp, and we said our goodbyes, hugged, cried and after a few threats from me to stow various children in my hand luggage (I just couldn’t leave little Danny), it was the strangest mix of relief, exhaustion and sadness. How could I just leave them now, after all this?
It took me about an hour to let the students leave me forever (Italians like a long goodbye but I took this to the next level…) and a week of travelling still didn’t get them out of my head. Because the best thing about summer camps? Forget the sun, the food, the wine (yes even the wine), because it’s all about the people you meet, the kids you teach, and you’ll make bonds you never thought possible to make in such a small space of time. The hardest thing? Easy – walking out the door at the end.