Every summer for more than 20 years, a language-arts teacher has moved into an SPU dorm to be in charge of Pacific Northwest Ballet's students.

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David Jensen

What do you do? From September to June, I teach sixth-grade language arts at Tillicum Middle School in Bellevue. In July and August, I am Pacific Northwest Ballet’s summer residence director. I am in charge of the dorm at Seattle Pacific University, where we house around 200 ballet students, ages 12-19, from all over the country and around the world who are in Seattle for five weeks to attend the PNB’s Summer Course.

How did you get started in this job? In 1995, before becoming a teacher, I was between retail management jobs and was hired as a kitchen helper at the PNB summer dorm, which at that time was a leased University of Washington sorority house. The dorm counselors were short-handed that summer and asked if I’d help chaperone some weekend outings. I did, and discovered I loved working with teens, which led to my earning my master’s in teaching from UW.

I came back as a counselor for the next couple of summers while in graduate school, and was promoted to residence director in 1998, a year before I started teaching.

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What’s a typical day like? There’s no such thing as a typical day when you’re one of 14 adults responsible for the well-being of 200 teenagers. Injuries, illnesses, homesickness and “I forgot my pointe shoes in my room!” all make for quickly changing plans.

Monday through Saturday, breakfast in the cafeteria starts at 7:00 with the students and the counselors-on-duty. I do a safety check of our school bus before driving the first busload of students from SPU to the PNB studios at Seattle Center at 7:50. (Most of our students make the trip via Metro.) I check my mailbox at the studio and chat with my boss, PNB school administrative director Denise Bolstad. Then I drive back to the dorm and respond to emails from parents, lead a brief staff meeting, check to see what needs to be ordered for our dorm store, and break for lunch in the cafeteria with all the counselors.

After lunch, I run errands (including Costco every Monday for birthday cakes) before driving the bus for the afternoon run. In the evening, I lead a house meeting every Monday (mandatory for all students and staff). After that, and on other nights, I’m doing whatever needs to be done — driving students downtown or to the movies, hanging out and playing board games or watching movies with them, and making sure my staff has everything they need to keep the kids safe and happy.

What surprises people about your job? Most people are surprised to learn that I move out of my home in Bellevue and live in the dorm at SPU all summer.

Also surprising, I guess, is that most of my work is actually done on evenings and weekends during the school year before the students even arrive in July. I start in January — interviewing and hiring the counselors, negotiating the terms of our contract with SPU, arranging all the extracurricular activities and daily transportation with Metro, ordering all the supplies and dorm store inventory, and getting everything from ice machine to fans, board games, DVD collections and office supplies moved from storage to the SPU campus. The week before students get here, the dorm counselors arrive, and I run their orientation and training.

Although I’m on the job six days a week and on call 24/7 while the students are here, my staff actually does most of the daily work with the students. My job is mostly dealing with all the unexpected issues that crop up.

What’s the best part of the job? The enthusiasm and focus of these students is awe-inspiring. Just being around them makes you feel good. Weekends — Saturday after class and all day Sunday — are the most fun at the dorm. We have a full schedule of optional events for the students — theater, sporting events, tours, the zoo, and Wild Waves. Seeing these professional-level ballet students letting down their hair (literally) and enjoying themselves is a blast. And at the end of the summer, when they tell me how much fun they had or send me thank-you notes, it feels great.

After 20 years on the job, it’s also a thrill to look at the website of pretty much any major ballet company in the world and see faces I recognize.

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