Sunday, 25 May 2008

How To Work With Youth

When I was 15, I remember wanting to be one of two things. The first was to do with making movies (a director or an animator) and the second was a school teacher. In June, the penultimate month of "Year 10", we were given the chance to spend a week working at a desired place of future employment to see how we liked it, for "work experience".

Having applied to Aardman Animations (the creators of "Wallace and Gromit" and "Chicken Run") with no success, I decided to try my second-choice career in education, heading back to my old Primary school for a week to work with the younger kids. This was partially because I knew people in the older classes, including my sister, so wanted to try an unbiased group and partially because I had long ago formulated a belief that kids got harder as they got older and I would have most fun with the first and second year children.

As it turns out, I had a lot of fun! Not only did the group adore me and all want to be the ones to follow me around at play time, I was invited to one of their birthday parties, given a bag of chocolates by another child and became “high demand” when it came to helping with classroom work. This experience caused me to consider my theory sound and I’ve continued to prefer working with younger kids ever since - despite very little negative experience with older kids or teens!

Despite enjoying the experience, I decided that I didn’t want to be one of the 24 year old student teachers that looked lost and got walked over. Initially I decided to wait until I was at least 30, and fill the 10-year void with another career. The career I chose, sticking loosely to my creative dreams, was a games designer. I figured that the games market was becoming huge and that creating a game could be compared to directing a film.

Last summer, working with children and young teenagers, I finally reignited my joy for teaching (4 years after moving away from it!) and let go of my self-destructive career path as a programmer. This was the fourth notable group of kids that I had worked with and they all seemed to enjoy my company as well as listen to and respect me as much as the previous groups of kids had. I decided that teaching was a good idea and travel/university could always fill the void before I turned 30, rather than an eye-rotting 10 years of dark rooms lit by screens filled by “nonsense code”.

When I arrived in Canada, I managed to get involved in a youth program called “Kids Club” through my cousin Thea, and joined her to help out with the “Grade 6’s and 7’s” – similarly aged to some of the kids at summer camp in Pennsylvania. This was the eldest single aged group that I had worked with and the first night proved my theory correct, in that holding their attention was a lot more work. I decided to introduce myself with some short stories of things that I had seen, whilst also trying to explain to them what the lunar eclipse was and why it made the moon orange.

As the weeks went on, I went from “strange British guy” to a new celebrity and the group of kids came to respect and adore me. After watching Juno, I learned a few of the songs and taught my age group them. The songs became a big hit and I am pretty sure that most of the group now knows at least one (Tree Hugger by Kimya Dawson!) which is amazing and was really uplifting when I first saw them spontaneously burst into song one time, singing the song that I had recommended!

Positive experiences with Kids Club encouraged me to work with slightly older youth and I soon signed up for my second weekly youth club, “FUEL”, in mid February. This was also a great experience and I was also able to hang out with the other leaders, who were my age range. The youth program was well structured with games, outings and community help mixed in every month and I had a lot of fun hanging out with the youth and playing football or chatting.

When both of these clubs came to an end in early May, I began searching for a replacement (my nightly activities now down to only one night a week (Thursday, football) instead of the 5 nights (2 youth clubs, football and work on the weekends) that had kept me busy in the winter. I found a youth program called “Fridge on Friday” which was for similarly aged teens to “FUEL” but was a lot less structured - seen as more of a drop-in centre than an organised weekly youth program. The night was much more popular too. Instead of 30 teens a night maximum, the program was averaging around 70!

Hanging out with the "fashionable" group at Fridge - having
my new haircut waxed and straightened!

I decided to keep this going until the summer and see how I could work with the more rowdy teenagers, another step away from the safety of working with really young kids. So far it has been really interesting and I have connected well with a few social groups. As the program winds down in early July, I hope to be one of the more popular leaders as I try hard to connect with the youth, and offer an ear if they need someone to talk to.

Maybe I could work with any age in education after all. These next few weeks will tell...


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