Essay:Working for CTY (Anonymous)
Some Thoughts on Working For CTY, for CTY Students by Anonymous
One of the most common sentiments among students who really love CTY is a desire to come back as an RA/TA after their nevermore year. I should know: I was one of them. So in the spring of my freshman year in college, propelled as much by laziness in searching for summer jobs as a love of CTY, I decided to apply to be a counselor. Now I’m a junior, and have two years experience as with the program. I'd rather not say which sites I worked at, because I may work for CTY again, and would rather my identity not be known, because of what I'm going to say in this piece.
First of all, you should know that "CTY the institution" (Johns Hopkins University) has a fairly strange relationship with "CTY the camp" (the idea and traditions kept alive by nearly 25 years of campers). Now, I've only worked at two sites, but at both of them, being a CTY alum was seen as a liability in the work environment rather than an asset by administrative types, as well as other RAs/TAs. There is a great fear among "CTY the institution" that hiring alums is dangerous because they will attempt to simply re-live their camp experience while on the job. This could mean anything from not enforcing rules to becoming too close friends with campers (the RA/TA manual specifically says that RA/TAs should not become friends with students). The site director at one site I worked at said that if it was his decision, he would not hire any CTY alums at the same site they came to as campers. I can say from personal experience that this "reliving camp" thing is a problem for a fairly small number of CTY alums who work for the program, specifically RAs – probably less than 15% or so. You won’t be able to enforce any rules if you don't have some separation from the students. You can, however, still be cool and friendly, and earn kid's respect so you don’t have to an authoritarian dick.
On average, I think alums make better RAs, because they are aware of CTY traditions and are more sensitive to them. Most RAs who haven't attended CTY find the traditions bizarre, ridiculous, or stupid, which is a fairly normal reaction for people encountering a close knit unfamiliar culture. This becomes especially apparent at dances – at my sites, the CTY alums would often try to maneuver their way onto the dance committees, so they would have some influence over the playlist. Dance committees composed entirely of non-CTY alums will consistently skip Canon songs, play them out of order, etc. – and generally piss off the camp populace. Sometimes this is intentional, but it's usually just because they have no idea of the culture and traditions of CTY. Many of these counselors describe the camp as "cult-like" - and while I can’t say this is untrue – it's indicative of their attitude towards traditions.
The administrative attitude towards traditions is a bit more nuanced – but the main motivation almost always seems to be placating neurotic, scary parents. While on the job, RAs/TAs are not supposed to show any sign of condoning traditions among campers, for fear that parents will get the idea that the camp is officially approving of some of the more "risqué" traditions, such as cross-dressing day.
So, if you're like me, you'll be very frustrated with your fellow counselors and the administration for not "getting it", for lack of a better term. That said, if you willing to deal with this stuff, definitely go ahead and work for CTY.
A bit about the job itself
First off, being an RA/TA will probably be one of the more memorable summer jobs you've had, for better or worse. My first summer as an RA was incredibly intense, emotionally and physically exhausting, and very hard to deal with. Exhausting, mainly – you will probably never be as tired in your life (until you become a parent, I guess). As an RA, you are essentially a 24-hour babysitter for a large group of students, all with their own problems and issues you need to deal with. Your only breaks are when they're in class. You'll have nights off when you can leave campus if you want, but half the time you’ll be too exhausted to take advantage of them and go to sleep when the kids do, at like 10:30 pm. You get one day off a session, which is not nearly enough. On top of that, you have to come up with daily and weekly activities, and plan the weekends. You, of course, will not be paid nearly enough – as of this writing, it’s $2100/6weeks for RAs, and $1900/6weeks for TAs. Although TAs have it pretty easy – they don’t have to live with students, and they have their weekends free. I would highly recommend being a TA, although it’s a harder job to get than RA – unless you really want to interact with students a lot.
You'll also be really isolated- you will have no life outside of camp. Most CTY sites are on rural/suburban college campuses in the middle of nowhere. Your free time will be spent with your fellow RAs/TAs – some of whom will be insufferably annoying, as with any job, except there’s no way to get away from them, since you’re there all the time. You will be fired on the spot if you’re under 21 and get caught drinking – I've seen it happen before! The administration will come up with silly rules that you have to enforce – you can get in trouble if you're not enforcing rules and a superior sees you. They own you while you're on the job. So don't take this job if you’re concerned about losing 6 weeks in the middle of your summer and never getting it back – it really does suck. I would recommend just working 3 weeks your first year, and seeing how it goes. That way you’re not stuck there for another session if you really hate it. 2nd session is always harder anyway, because you’re so exhausted by that point.
I'm sorry if this ended up sounding discouraging. I just really don't want CTY alums to come to this job with unrealistic expectations of what it is. The vast majority of RAs/TAs don't return after their first year, because the job is so difficult – I'd estimate the non-admin/teacher retention rate at less than 10%. The job will also be extra hard for you, because you went to CTY and administrators will be scrutinizing you to make sure you don’t act too much like a camper. That said, it can also be incredibly rewarding, and you'll remember your students forever. If you have specific questions, please post them on this wiki page, and I’d be glad to answer them, if I ever get back here.