I am writing this letter to you because I’ve been thinking about you rather a lot lately. Of course, you have often been in my thoughts as I prepare a lecture or mark your work or plan what might be a meaningful learning experience for you. But my recent thoughts have been more about what I have gained and learned from you during a time when you have been looking for answers about your future and your world and yourself, and I’ve realised that, perhaps, what I really want to do is to thank you.
Shared work and hope
First of all, I want to thank you for choosing child and youth care work as your work, because that makes it our work. Your concern for young people and for the development of our society reaffirms my own commitment to the possibility of something better for children and youth and the importance of providing effective services to those who live on the margins, living alone with their pain and anger and confusion. I thank you for contributing to my sense of hope that things can be different and the conviction that they should be. Your enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge are an inspiration and I feel energised by the time we spend together.
Shared opinions and ideas
I want to thank you for your willingness to be honest with yourself and with others and with me. Your open expression of your opinions and feelings has been refreshing and stimulating to me. Your sharing has contributed to a more holistic exploration of issues and ideas. And I have been reminded that my views and my experiences are precisely that. They are my views and my experiences, and my job is to not give you my views and experiences, but to create opportunities for us to share perspectives so that you may reach your own conclusions and realisations. It is not my role to give you the answers, but perhaps, to guide with questions and opportunities for your own experiences. And I thank you for the chance to travel a journey with you, guiding me with your questions, and for sharing experiences so that my own views are transformed in the process.
Shared fear and courage
I want to thank you for your courage, the courage to face yourself and your fears. I know the anxiety and fear of speaking in front of others, of starting a task without the certainty of what is expected, the fears of failure and rejection, of being judged unworthy or unacceptable or inferior. And yet despite your fear, you have drawn on your strength, and perhaps too, the strength of others, so that you take the risk and launch yourself into an uncomfortable place of potential pain and chaos. My hope is that such experiences will give you further strength and confidence to grow further. I hope too that they will build in you even greater empathy for the young people with whom you work, and the struggles they have to engage in the ordinary tasks of life, such as making the bed or expressing their sadness or completing their homework. For them, such activities are so filled with the threat of physical or psychological danger that they prefer to not try, and miss the opportunities which could provide them with a rare experience of success and satisfaction. And so I thank you for the risks you take, because I know that they are important, not only for you, but also for the hundreds of children and youth whose lives will be touched by yours.
I want to thank you for the times you greeted me and smiled in recognition, and for the moments of fun we've had together. I remember the light in your eyes as we shared a joke and the sound of your laugh as we both saw the humour in a situation. I want to thank you too for your willingness to forgive when I have not met your expectations or you feel I have treated you unfairly. You have allowed me to explain or apologise, and to be an ordinary human being who makes mistakes.
I want to thank you for the times that others have seen you learning to be a child and youth care worker, and have said to me, “Thank you”, or “Well done” or “You’re doing a great job”. They've said those things because of what you have done and how you have been and the fact that you have made a difference. And so, your successes have become my successes, or perhaps, more accurately, they are our successes.
Shared learning journeys
I want to thank all of you, past, present and future for what you contribute to my life. You are my teachers, providing me with experiences and opportunities for reflection and learning. I have learned things that only you can teach me, and I thank you for each lesson.
I look forward to our further travels in child and youth care together.
This feature: Winfield. J. (2007). A letter to my student. Child & Youth Care Work, 25(4) p.22