Not long after starting my youth work career I went back home to spend a weekend at my mums house. my youngest brother was having a party and after chatting with a few of his mates a pattern started to emerge…they all hated school. The stories all seemed the same, struggling at home, lost in classes and teachers who just seemed to get on their case. Most of these kids were lucky if the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was met in their lives and many of the teachers were asking them to work in the self-actualisation region.
|Maslow’s hierarchy of needs|
The more I listened to my brothers mates, the more I was appalled at the education system and the teachers lack of empathy. Conversely, at the time I had a number of friends who were studying education so I began a witch hunt. Teachers were evil I just needed the proof. My own dislike of school and my own run ins with teachers who knew about as much about adolescent welfare as I know about thermodynamics (which to be sure is only how to spell it) may have been clouding my judgement. As my investigation progressed however I began to realise that it is not teachers fault that they seem empathetically impotent, their course structures do not really teach them anything about the welfare of their students.
My friends who completed their secondary teaching degrees had one subject on student wellbeing. Most of them either slept, drank or played snooker through the classes and those that did attend found that the content was unhelpful when it came to actually helping their students. As people who are spending 30+ hours a week with young people it blew my mind to realise how little they are taught about young people in their courses. Realistically if you don’t do electives about young people you would only have two subjects which relate to youth development and wellbeing.
A couple of years later I got to go to the school my brother and his mates attended to do a guest talk. As a former student there who had finally gotten life in order I was asked to inspire young minds to greatness. All I could think was it would have been great if any of my teachers could have inspired me to greatness…instead they inspired me to drop out of secondary school. I did my best and spoke like a true salesman for half an hour and at the end the students had a chance to chat with me. Many of the students were in similar situations to my brothers mates and all of the ones I spoke with told me that their teachers had no clue about their circumstances outside of school.
When I got home I reflected on that night years ago and something one of my brothers mates said after I tore him a new one for thinking of dropping out of school. He said “I %^&*ing HATE school: I’m going to be a drug dealer!” You know what…that’s exactly what he did. More and more these days schools have become the central welfare point for young people and their families, however the people they are turning to have minimal training and resources at best. This does pose more difficult issues for youth workers in schools.
As the most trained and equipped people to deal with the issues young people are facing, school based youth workers have a huge role to fill. We need to be supports and referral points for young people, supports and trainers for teachers and most of all advocates for the young people while they are going through their storm and stress. We need to give teachers their dues, they are great educators, and we need to help them gain a better understanding of adolescents and how to improve their welfare.