There’s a stereotype out there of many youth workers.
Many see us as jeans/hoodie-wearing, video game-playing, trip-taking, candy-pushing, Facebook time-wasting, always-on-break, pizza-ravers. And honestly, those are some of the best parts of youth work, there’s no denying it. Some might be considered – or at least consider themselves – professional youth workers despite their frequent-member card for every coffee shop in town.
A professional youth worker is often distinguished through qualifications. Like social workers, teachers, therapists and other professionals, the addition of qualifications makes their work considered ‘professional’ in many settings. This is becoming increasingly true in places like the UK that are now offering professional youth worker training courses (like the amazing one I did at DMU!) and the increased use of the Joint Negotiating Committee’s (JNC) tiered qualifications.
So long as you have the qualifications, you can be considered a ‘professional youth worker’.
However, there is another caricature of a youth worker that’s often very true. We tend to run late, put off administrative tasks, recoil from deadlines, keep our workspace more like a teenager’s bedroom than an office, forget to call people back (or avoid it because it’s an irritating parent or other professional), work unusual hours where it’s hard to track our movements and avoid report writing at all costs.
I don’t care how many letters you have after your name, if your behavior is like this as a youth worker, I would venture to say you’re not really a ‘professional’ anything.
We’re often so caught up in the warm and fuzzy world of relating to youth and worrying about our next youth retreat, we forget that we’re also an important example of how to conduct ourselves as adults.
Here are 7 do’s for being a truly ‘professional’ youth worker, with or without qualifications.
- Do call people back. Especially parents. And other professionals. And youth. OK, just call people back full stop
- Do show up on time for meetings as the rule rather than the exception
- Do come prepared for meetings when you do have to attend them
- Do foster good relationships with other youth workers and professionals in your local area and beyond – you never know when you may need them
- Do keep your office inviting and comfortable for youth while also creating a postive place for productive administrative work and meetings
- Do take the time to plan your work. A 10-minute glance at some notes or a curriculum before the start of a group does not a successful program make
- Do keep a variety of koosh balls or candy on your desk. After all, you are still a youth worker.
Question: What pet peeve do you have about professionalism in youth work? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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