Life as a Professional Outdoor Educator

Rachel O'Neil11 Feb, 2021
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I love my job at Adventure Treks. In the summer, I get to join a group of passionate instructors who focus on creating unforgettable experiences, and I get to spend several weeks with some pretty incredible teenagers in the outdoors. During the rest of the year, I get to recruit, interview, hire, and get to know all of our instructors. We have a rigorous application process for new instructors—they have several interviews with Dmac, Jack, and myself; they provide several professional references; they must demonstrate knowledge and experience in risk management and good judgment in decision-making; and, of course, they must be a great cultural fit for Adventure Treks. Needless to say, we spend a lot of time getting to know our instructors before the summer even starts.

What always inspires me is the excitement and dedication to outdoor adventure camps for teens that our new and returning instructors display throughout the year. They are truly excited about fostering kind and inclusive communities, creating a supportive environment for everyone to step outside their comfort zones, and becoming role models to and friends with every student—all while living outside among North America’s most beautiful scenery.

That’s not to say the work of an AT instructor isn’t demanding; our staff wear multiple hats and balance many responsibilities. They give up their personal time, live off tortillas and GORP for weeks at a time, go to bed later and wake up earlier than students—all because they believe in and are passionate about the work they’re doing for our communities. But these challenges are more than worth it, and it’s why so many of our instructors are outdoor education professionals who return to AT year after year. It’s not just about teaching teenagers how to pitch tents or paddle a kayak; it’s about allowing students to learn about themselves, feel empowered and confident, celebrate their hard work, discover their resilience, make lifelong friends, and realize they’re more capable than they ever thought. Our instructors lead with intention and from the heart.

But of course we can talk about Adventure Treks all day long! So we asked our current and former instructors for a few words about what life is like as an outdoor educator; why they encourage anyone who’s thinking about working in this field to go for it; and what’s so fulfilling and rewarding about working in this industry.

I love the laughs, friendships, and connections, and empowering students to be their best selves. I’m proud of how I’ve learned to respond in challenging situations, and how I’m able to offer care to my students in tough situations and help them to accomplish goals. – Renee from Sonora, CA

This summer [2020] in particular at AT was incredible. I liked most the communities I helped form, and I’m proud of the impact I had on all my students’ lives. I feel like I have grown the most by being in a position where I can let my leadership style flourish. – Anthony from Murrells Inlet, SC

Getting to know students is the best part of Adventure Treks—they are all so amazing! I am proud to be an AT instructor; when I was an AT student, I always looked up to my instructors so much. Students can trust that we are looking out for them, and being there for them is our top priority. I’ve become motivated to become the best outdoor instructor that I can. – Laura from Raleigh, NC

I’ve always loved the community AT has provided, and that was especially highlighted during summer 2020. I’m proud to have been able to work with our students in a time when they needed it most. – Katy from Bozeman, MT

As an outdoor educator in 2020, I was most proud of my staff team and how we collaborated to give our students the best trip possible. – Ryan from Steamboat Springs, CO

The best part of my last AT summer was providing the “ah-ha!” moments to our students. I am most proud of opening up and being my best self; I think my biggest accomplishment was the amount of growth I felt with regard to my patience, emotional control, leadership, and communication. – Thor from Byron, MN

This past summer, it was great being on a trip with first-time AT students because I got to teach them everything from scratch and take them on their first backpacking trip. Seeing how accomplished they felt after the trip was so rewarding! – Roisin from Australia

As an outdoor instructor, I love seeing the growth in students and getting to experience beautiful places and exciting activities with them. – Abby from Loma Linda, CA

Seeing Adventure Treks from the instructor perspective after having been an AT student for multiple summers was amazing. I love helping students push themselves and seeing them shine and open up when they succeed. – Teddy from Ithaca, NY

One of the best parts about working with Adventure Treks is growing my intentionality as an outdoor instructor and leader. I feel as though I gained a tremendous amount of confidence, not only as a leader, but also as a person. I really enjoyed being able to help students step into leadership roles and prioritize the community. – Natasha from San Diego, CA

The community here at Adventure Treks made summer 2020 so unforgettable, especially the friendships made among students and staff. I am proud to have made a conscious effort to connect with each student and to have been a part of a successful, safe, and incredible summer. I grew in learning the balance between caring for others and myself, and when to speak versus when to listen. I saw the value and impact of a strong community for our students and felt its positive impact in myself as well! – Hannah from Steamboat Springs, CO

I love the time we spend with students. They are the reason why I return each summer. I am most proud of how we develop positive relationships with each of them. – Avery from Edgewater, CO

Interested in pursuing a rewarding and fulfilling life as an outdoor instructor? Learn more about working with Adventure Treks here!

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