Youthworkers; can we be too available?

I got bullied at school. Not alot, teased mercilessly at times, part of the banter for a while, due to being a christian, not being so great at football (though trying really hard), being not clever enough, not popular enough and more acutely not having a girlfriend ‘early’ enough. So there was banter, for a long while, but when it came to the time of being ‘what i would say now’ bullied properly it wasnt for a huge length of time, but it happened.

In those days, yep, the mid to early 1990’s, there were no youthworkers, who spend lots of time in school. I doubt if there were more than 50 paid youthworkers in schools in the country, and so the things i did at school at lunchtime were run by teachers. So, yes i went to the christian union, football training and badminton clubs -they were all run by teachers, and because i gave myself the opportunity to interact with teachers in non-teaching time i was able to talk with them about the bullying that i was exeperiencing. It was still a very difficult conversation, and i was absolutely bricking it ( shows my age that one), and going to the science lab at 3.30 to talk to the ‘christian union’ teacher (who wasnt my normal teacher) i still remember to this day.

It was beneficial all round. Because the teacher had interacted more informally with us, she (Mrs Green) was someone whom i could divulge the situation, and i would only have to do this once, only have to have the conversation with one person who would be able to deal with it, in the structures of the school. I did have to have the conversation again, the next day, with the head of year, but at that point id done it the first time. Felt empowered actually that it wasnt ‘my fault’ and that something would be done.

The reason i am reflecting on this, is that i wonder if at times we as youthworkers in schools, for whatever reasons, clubs, mentoring, sports make ourselves too involved in the contexts of the young person. In a desperate attempt to be involved, we’re the youth club leader, the after schools club leader, the lunchclub leader. Doing some great youthwork, amazing youthwork. But what happens when the young person wants to tell us first that they’re being bullied, or something worse. Because after all, weve put ourselves in the space that once was where the ‘friendly’ teacher might have been.

If we become the person that the young person wants to trust to talk to for the first time; what might it feel like when we have to say, we’ll actually you’ll have to tell a guidance teacher, or your tutor as well. Or worse – ill have to on your behalf..

Maybe this is a futile conversation anyway (most of my blogs are) but in the busyness of trying to become a person who young people can trust, can speak to, should we also enable teachers, and those who might have actual power to deal with situations, to be alongside us so that the young person doesnt just relate to us – especially if in the long run we might not actually be around for the long term (due to funding) anyway. It might be futile also, because in reality there arent that many youthworkers in schools in the UK even now, and teachers are doing wonderful jobs, and giving up lunchtimes and afterschool to invest more into young people than ‘just’ academia. However, this is as much a personal reflection on my own experience of needing teachers to be ‘youthworkers’ and supportive and helpful in my own teenage years.



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