Thursday, August 2, 2012

An open letter to summer camp parents

(I work at a chess camp, but most of this letter is probably relevant to other summer camps as well.)

Dear Parents,

Hi, I'm one of the coaches at your son's/daughter's chess camp. Your child is not causing any problems. However, there are a few things you could do that would make my life much easier.

Please don't bring your child too early. I know you have two jobs and six other children in twelve different camps (eleven across the continental US and one in Hawaii). I'm expecting kids to come before camp starts. But bringing your child by at 12:20 when camp starts at 1 is excessive. And if you bring your child early and I'm not there, don't sigh at me and say that you were wondering if you were in the right place when I come in at 12:45. Yes, the room with the chess boards and the sign on the door that says CHESS CAMP is the chess camp. Sorry that I'm eating lunch. Wait, no I'm not. And trust me, your child doesn't want me to take care of him all afternoon without my having eaten.

Don't try to have an important conversation with me when I'm clearly doing something else. See all those kids with their hands up? I have to do something about them. See that girl clutching her crotch? I have to take her to the bathroom. See that little boy taking off before his mother arrives? Gotta fix that too. "Hi, how are you" is great. "Jimmy just loves chess camp" is fine too. "Kevin has been coming home in tears because Stephanie makes fun of him for losing" is not a conversation that I can have in between checking checkmates and making sure that everyone is signed out. If it's more than chit-chat, either ask to talk to me for a minute, at which point I'll get another coach to cover for me and we can step out in the hall, or send me an email, or call me in the evening. (I once had a parent send a letter with her child in the morning. She then sent the father to pick the child up, and the father had no idea of the issue that led to the letter, so we couldn't talk about it. This is unnecessarily silly and non-confrontational. Just talk to us.)

Don't expect me to know who your kid is. There are 35 kids registered for this camp. Each of them has two parents, a grandparent, a friend's mom, and two different babysitters. I don't have a great memory, and I simply can't keep track of who belongs to whom like that. So if you walk in on Monday afternoon and say, "How's he doing?", don't expect me to immediately have an answer full of details on your child's skill and improvement. I don't know who your child is!

Trust me that I have at least some idea of what I'm doing. If you tell me your child is a very advanced player, and I put him in the intermediate group, I'm probably right. I actually do know how to play chess. That's why I work here, not at McDonald's. If you think that your child's placement is wrong, we can discuss this. Key word: discuss. Don't just inform me that I'm incompetent. Yes, I might have made a mistake, or I might have decided to place a borderline child down with the intent to move him up later in the week. But your child may just not be as advanced as you think.

Don't blame me when things are your fault. I've had a parent angry because no one told her that the location of the camp was changed. We apologized, explaining that we had sent an email. She snapped, "Oh, well I got an email, but I didn't bother to READ IT." I'm sorry that you came to the wrong building, but at this point, it's really not my fault anymore.

Don't be late. If you remember only one rule, remember this one. I understand that traffic jams happen, I understand that Google maps can send you through gated neighborhoods and streets that don't exist. Please leave a little early if you don't know where you're going. I do it. So can you. And if you can't make it on time, pull over and call me. 9 times out of 10, your child is worried about you, and informing us that you're stuck in traffic means he knows you're safe. (If you are late, apologize when you show up. If you aren't sorry, just fake it. You should be.)

Lastly, talk to me. I'm fairly reasonable, and I am willing to work with you. If your child absolutely needs to get here at 12:20, I can bring the sign in sheet to lunch and she can join us in the cafeteria. If you have a chronic problem with an aspect of the camp, tell me that on Tuesday, not on Friday. I actually have had parents say on Friday, "He liked the games, but I wish the lessons had been harder. He told me every day that he was bored." If you had told me that on Tuesday, we could have done something about us. He never told us he was bored.

Anyway, I want to reiterate that your child is (usually) a joy to have in class.

Sincerely, Your Child's Chess Coach

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