So You Want To Work For
This brief and definitely not complete job description is meant to introduce you to what our program entails for its staff. It is not by any means meant to scare people, but it is an honest attempt to describe some of the realities and responsibilities of a very difficult yet rewarding job.
Begun in 1973, Nature's Classroom (NC) is a non-profit environmental education teaching service. We serve a wide variety of children ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade. They come from every type of background imaginable: big cities, suburban areas, rural communities, public schools, private schools, charter schools and schools that serve populations with special needs. We have 14 sites in New England and New York. (See "Where is Nature's Classroom?") Each site has a staff of about 9 teachers, a program coordinator and a medical staff person.
Our first requirement for a job at Nature's Classroom is that you have a love for children. Children are the reason for our program's existence. You must have the desire to help them learn: learn about themselves, learn about others, learn about their relationship with the environment, and most importantly, learn to love learning.
You must be willing to challenge yourself with every type of group, and devote your energy towards and concentrate on the needs of the kids who come to us. The love and excitement kids give back makes all this worthwhile.
A sense of humor is most helpful, as is flexibility and creativity.
The following is a typical day’s schedule at NC, subject to change instantaneously (remember that flexibility and creativity). This schedule will give you a brief idea of what the kids and staff do each day.
7:15 am Kids and staff wake up!!
7:45 Waitrons (i.e. our student volunteers) and one staff member get the dining room ready for breakfast.
8:00 Breakfast. All staff and kids eat together. It’s a chance to compare yawns, discuss the coming day, and greet the morning as a group. Two o’clock classes are announced and selected; they are followed by morning activity announcements. Then everybody heads off to get ready for field group.
9-9:25 Your field group prep time: brush your teeth, warm up your compass, check your day pack, dress for the occasion because at...
9:30-11:30 You and twelve students are off to explore and discover the property together in field group. We want to help them create a connection to the natural world that includes appreciation for the environment and a sense of responsibility for it. We can cover a lot of science as students learn about the amazing things on our properties. And the best thing is, you get to create your curriculum each day with your students. You want to probe the pond for creepy crawlies? Great! You want to get lost and use orienteering skills to get back? Great! You want to practice some survival skill like wild edibles and fire building? Great! We also do team building activities during this time to help students develop self-confidence and teamwork skills. You'll also help your students sign up for their 2 pm activities.
11:45 Waitrons and one staff member get the dining room ready for lunch.
12:00 Lunch (yummy, yummy). Be ready to drop all inhibitions and lead songs, tell stories, introduce four-o'clock classes, and generally have a fun time. Announce and sign up for 4 pm classes.
1-1:55 On Tuesdays and Thursdays, kids' free time, our class prep panic. "What do you mean you need the pond nets too???! Argghhhhhhhh!" On Mondays there is little free time until mid afternoon. On some Wednesdays you will pack a lunch and be out for a longer portion of the day with your field group exploring a mountain or saltwater environment. You are responsible for the children until you return to the site mid-afternoon. On Fridays the children usually depart for home after lunch.
2-3:30 Special interest classes. Staff teach classes from our over 600 existing lesson plans or lesson plans that they research and develop themselves. We'll work to meet the school's request for classes that cover certain standards and topics. And we'll fill in the rest of the schedule with our personal favorites. Within each class period we can cover all the academic disciplines (math, science, social studies, arts, language arts and humanities) with a focus in the science and math areas. (See "Sample of Special Interest Programming"). Topics, classes, resources etc. are shared amongst staff to help keep each class and instructor as exciting and informative as possible.
3:30-4:00 Class prep panic sets in again. "What happened to the bar magnets? Who’s seen the geodome rope? The scissors are missing AGAIN!"
4-5:00 Another set of special interest classes.
5:15 Waitrons and one staff member help get the dining room set up for dinner.
5:30 Dinner with the kids. "And what did YOU do today?"
7:00 Evening activities begin. We might be leading anything from a science fair to team building challenges to a night exploration. These vary from week to week according to what new and exciting things the staff develop and what requests are made by the participating schools.
9-9:30 Snack and quiet sing. Staff helps in setting up snack and singing quiet songs or telling stories; a nice way to close the day for kids.
9:30 Staff meeting to keep those old communication lines OPEN. "What’s happening with the group?" "As a staff, are we ready for tomorrow?" It’s definitely a time to examine personal philosophies and warm laughter, which is just as important to the picture as the whereabouts of the bar magnets and scissors! Some meetings last only a few minutes; others may go late depending on the topic.
All of this is followed by the walk back to staff housing, lines for the bathrooms, and exhausted souls groping for their beds. On high energy nights we may sit around a fire or play music together before hitting the hay. Then alarm clocks are set for early the next morning, and we do it all over again!
Parts of our day also include:
-Maintaining discipline, especially in large groups and in regards to safety.
-Doing occasional office work, light maintenance or snow shoveling.
-Cleaning kids’ living spaces and facilities before kids arrive and after the kids leave (the kids try to help clean up before they leave.) Yes, this includes bathrooms.
-Helping out in the kitchen 3 or 4 times throughout the week during meals clearing the dining hall and washing dishes.
-Helping out at other sites on occasion (we pay transportation).
-Lending a hand to other staff as they learn or prepare activities.
-Anything else not mentioned!!!!
We do recommend that all teaching staff teach for one week at a different site. This allows you to have a greater awareness of Nature's Classroom as a total organization, permits you to have a greater impact on our development, gives you the opportunity to work in some amazing natural places, and allows you to learn from talented staff at other facilities.
Our staff is on duty with the students, morning, afternoon and evening, 5 days a week. Your after-minutes are generally your own, but understand that you may be called on in an emergency. On rare occasions a school will ask for our staff to cover the children at night, for an additional charge. Weekends are yours to do what you want: travel, sleep in, go out, party or relax with old and new friends.
After hours and weekends are the only time we have to prepare for field groups and classes. But not to fret, we are all in this together. We share resources, ideas, knowledge, time, and experiences. We enjoy learning as much as the kids we work with during the week. Come prepared to share your knowledge, and turn your interests into dynamo stuff to use with the kids during the week.
Our program runs most of the school year, September through roughly Thanksgiving for the fall and mid March through the second week in June for the spring; we have a number of winter options and connections to keep many staff employed until the sites open for the Spring season.
We always hire more staff for our Spring season, there will be openings beginning in February, March and April and ending in mid-June. There is the option for some staff to find employment with Nature's Classroom's two summer programs: Life-TECH Ventures in Charlton, MA and Adventure Camp in Hancock, NH. Our host organizations hire our staff for their summer programs as well.
The living conditions at Nature's Classroom are probably different from any you have ever experienced. We live, work and play closely together. Our personal relationships affect our professional relationship, and vice versa. You will be closer to your co-workers than almost any other job that you've had. Most of the time, this is a huge benefit. It can be a challenge as well. While living at Nature's Classroom, be aware that we are guests of the host organization (which owns the property). We must adhere to their standards of behavior, cleanliness, and respect for buildings.
The staff quarters vary from site to site. Some housing includes summer camp cabins that have been winterized, some facilities have real houses. All have bedrooms plus a common area and kitchen facilities. The staff quarters are tight. You will share a room with one or two other people and share bathroom and kitchen spaces with up to a dozen folks. As many of the housing arrangements are rustic, feel free to bring your own touches of home; lamps, posters, radio, alarm clock, musical instruments, day pack, books (save some room for clothes and personal toiletries). Also, be sure to bring bedding.
The weather in New England is very unpredictable. Even if you are only joining us for one season, bring four seasons worth of clothing. While we do not have a formal dress code for our teaching staff, staff are required to wear long pants and closed shoes during program times. We ask that your clothing is neat and appropriate for being around children. Every site has laundry facilities on or near the property. It is strongly recommended that you bring warm, comfortable shoes, waterproof boots, sneakers, hats, gloves, etc. Raingear is a must! The whole environment is a challenge, not only to the kids but to the staff. You must be creative, open, and able to adapt.
The weekly stipend varies according to degree and work experience. We provide housing while you are with us. We provide food 27/7 as well: eating with the kids when they are on property, and a modest food budget to cover expenses for weekends and holidays. We also enroll you into a health care policy that meets the Federal Minimum Essential Coverage requirements. Weekends are free times and you can come and go as you please. If we do not have students on property during the week, there will be a work option so that you can earn a 5 day paycheck. The work option sometimes includes maintenance, program upkeep, or professional development. You can also take the day off unpaid.
Most importantly, we offer the freedom to teach and to grow. You are encouraged to explore new areas for classes and programs. Take the opportunity to grow within the program itself. Teach new subjects. Practice different classroom management techniques. Write, try, and revise original lesson plans. Work in different locations with access to different resources. Work with adults and students that are different from you. If you want to grow with our program, throw your name in the running to be a Program Coordinator and supervise a facility. Work directly with school administrators, teachers and parents to create the best possible program for our students. Be a mentor for young Nature's Classroom teachers. If you find that this is truly what you love to do, there is even the chance to open your own site in association with Nature's Classroom somewhere out in the world. (A quick internet search will uncover Nature's Classrooms started by our former staff all across the country.)
What are the rest of the staff like?? Will I fit in?? There is not a person on our staff who didn't ask the same questions AND probably said it again during orientation. "What the heck am I doing here?!!" Everyone comes from a wide background: hardcore science and artists, veggies and hunters, preppies and hipsters, NYC-upbringing and tractor-raised, from lots of religious, ethnic, cultural and life-experience backgrounds. We are drawn together by our love of teaching and our belief in strong and supportive communities. Once you sign and return that contract, you will absolutely be a good fit. You'll be someone that is supported and valued. And you'll discover the best family you've never known and the most fun you'll have working!
So you'd still like to work for Nature's Classroom?? Great! REREAD this one more time to make sure; it is a pretty sound picture. QUESTIONS?? I hope so. Come and see us in operation. Your final step towards joining us is a personal or phone interview.
19 Harrington Road
Charlton, MA 01507
phone: (800) 433-8375
fax: (508) 248-2745