The Wonderful World of Boarding School

So, I was making my four hour drive downstate to visit friends and family (and take a break from my wonderful, but very stressful job) and I ended up spending a chunk of time contemplating, of course, the very job that I’m taking a break from. I realize that I spend a lot (i.e. nearly all of my time) talking about my work, but I find that it’s a job that most people barely understand. So, let me take a moment to address some common misconceptions about being a residence hall counselor at an arts boarding high school.

“Oh, so you’re a teacher?”

Uh, well, not in the conventional sense. I teach, that’s for sure, but instead of teaching math and science, I’m a teacher of life skills. I teach kids how to plunge toilets, how to properly load a washing machine, how to talk to someone that irritates you, how to respect space, how to respect yourself, how to use a broom (but really), and how to be a generally good person to other people. There are things I teach that would probably make your head spin.

“Oh, so you’re like a mom?”

Also, again, not in the conventional sense. I am definitely like a mom – I say things like “put on a coat!” when they try to walk outside in a tanktop in the middle of a Northern Michigan winter, things like “watch your language!” when they swear in the lobby, and I’m there when they run up to the desk with a beaming smile to show me the finished product of a class project. But, we’re not quite moms. We’re closer in age, and we serve many roles for the students: friend, confidante, older sister, and crazy aunt, to name a few. While a teenage girl might not be willing to talk to her parents about her long time crush on a classmate, she’ll be totally willing to sing a song about how much she likes him to me, or she’ll ask for advice on how to handle a conflict with her best friend.

“Oh, so you’re like an RA?”

I have to fight my internal bias every time with this statement – I never took my college RAs very seriously, to be honest, and it’s colored my on the concept of “residence life.” I do programming like an RA would, but it’s not like college where all the programs are on the dangers of alcohol and unprotected sex! If I were on a spectrum from RA to mom, I would be waaaaay closer to a mom.

“Do you live in, like, an off-campus apartment?”

This question kills on a bad day. Each night, I sleep in my own apartment in the dorm – it’s two rooms connected by a closet, and it’s way more space than my nomadic self needs… and this is the same residence hall that my darling girls sleep in. I’m on-duty five days out of the week, and I sleep in a building with 70+ 14 and 15 year-old girls. The real kicker is this implication: I’m accessible and responsible for student life aaaaaall night long. If one of my girls needs something at 4am, it’s not only encouraged for her to knock on my door, but expected! I would do anything for my girls, but after a long work day, the last thing you want is to be woken up by a crying door. Or a run to the emergency room. Or a door alarm being set off and having to search every. single. room. to see if somebody has snuck in or out.

“Wow, it sounds like you need a glass of wine!”

Remember the part about being responsible for 70+ children? No nightly glass of wine for me!

“Well, how ’bout breakfast?”

Unfortunately, I work until midnight each night and the thought of waking up at 8:00am makes my soul ache. If breakfast means 10:00am at the earliest, that sounds great!

“So, what do you ACTUALLY do, then?”

I don’t think this kind of work can accurately be described to anyone. We regularly joke about the fact that one of duties is listed as “other duties as assigned.” Want some examples? Helping a kid mop up toilet water, peeling a sobbing girl off the ground after she finds out that her friend committed suicide, telling a girl that she needs to be discreet and sanitize her sex toys, taking a girl to the hospital who speaks very little English and having to explain to her what “recreational drugs” are, using a lighter to burn the ends of pointe shoe ribbon for a dancer, “come to Jesus” talks (we haven’t been able to find a better way to phrase that, really), evacuating a building when a kid overloads a washer and it fills the basement with smoke, teaching said kid how to do laundry without burning down the building, and a score of other things.

tl;dr: My job defies description, makes for great stories, and in the end, we chose this.

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