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If I was starting my career this week, I would ...

Jack Phelan

I am happy to have been a CYC for all these many years, but if I were starting right now, here are a few ideas about what I might do, if I “didn’t know now what I didn’t know then” to quote Bob Seger.

First I would have gone to school for 2 -4 years and gotten a professional grounding. This was not available when I began my career. But, given that preparation, I would look for a job where I felt that I would get good mentoring and supervision. I would have used my field placement experiences and the experiences of my classmates to listen and learn about where the best practice was happening. I would have attended a CYC conference or two by now and been impressed (or not) by the people who gave workshops. I would ask the “smarter” CYC practitioners and teachers that I met to recommend the three CYC books that they considered essential reading. I would use the e-mail discussion group on to ask people relevant questions about what good practice looks like and where it is happening. I would commit to keeping informed and maintaining an open attitude to learning CYC ideas.

This input would be very helpful, but I would also need to be clear about my own beliefs about which CYC approaches were most useful, what I considered to be the fundamentals of good practice and bad practice, and my understanding of myself and what I bring to the table.

I would spend time with youth, listening carefully to them about what they think makes an effective CYC practitioner, and listen to parents as well, to hear from them about good and not so good experiences they have had with “helpers”.

I would get experience and training in doing fun things, exploring interesting activities and skills that would help me to have something to offer when I was living alongside youth. I would try to be curious and evaluate suggestions and program approaches in my job to see if they were in line with my fundamental beliefs, and be willing to question everything I was doing. I would also expect to be confused and uncertain, and be able to live with that until I got more experience.

My initial goal would be to learn how to be safe and comfortable with myself for the first year of practice and to not get overwhelmed with the demands of the life space. But I would have a clear focus on developing competence in my second and third years of experience that would be benchmarked by the level of skill exhibited by the best practitioners around me.

When I finally reached my professional stride, I would be starting to see the endless possibilities for development ahead.