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10 Tips for Working With Students

6. Forget “coolness.”

Striving to be the cool adult can lead youth workers to act too much like the students they’re supposed to shepherd. You should be child-like as Christ says in Matthew 18:3 and play and have fun with your students. You shouldn’t pander to them by showing how much like them you can act to win their favors. Besides, copying teenage behavior can backfire, earning students’ contempt and making it hard for you to exert authority when it’s needed.

5. But keep your cool.

Students can surprise you with their love, caring and kindness, but they can also fray your last nerve. When fraying happens, it’s OK to get angry. It’s not OK to let anger push you over the edge into a freefall of shouting, belittling and haranguing—or worse. Avoid raising your voice to a student for any reason other than being heard over the ambient noise or warning of physical danger. Correct students firmly, but kindly.

4. Keep confidences.

Stay a youth worker long enough, and you’ll be blessed by a student who trusts you enough to take you into her confidence. If you want to be trusted, you must be trustworthy. That means that what you hear in confidence should stop with you. But what should happen can’t happen if what you’re told crosses a line. The laws of your state or the rules of your church or youth program may stipulate when you must report what you are told and to whom you must report it. If not law or church rule, then common sense may dictate what is serious enough to break a confidence, such as the likelihood that harm may come to someone if you don’t.

Revealing a confidence will be awkward enough. It will be worse if the student has no inkling it will be revealed. Wise youth pastors and youth workers tell students in advance what things they can and cannot keep secret.

3. Brief the youth pastor.

This is for his benefit and yours, especially if you teach a class or work with students when the youth pastor isn’t there. Make sure he knows what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, what’s going well and what’s going not so well. Good, and frequent, communication builds the youth pastor’s confidence in you. It also helps ensure he isn’t blindsided. If an angry parent ruins his day with an unwarranted complaint about you, he can defend you if he knows what you’re doing.

2. Fess up when you mess up.

When you err, and you will, be big enough to admit it. Apologize when needed to other youth workers, to the youth pastor or to students—especially to students. It makes them feel that you respect them, a feeling they likely don’t get enough from adults.

1. Keep your batteries charged.

Youth work is enjoyable, fulfilling and thought provoking. It’s also tiring. Remember, you’re not expected to sacrifice yourself on the altar of youth work. To give your students your best, take care of yourself physically and spiritually. Rest. Take time off now and then. Keep up with your Bible study. And pray for your youth pastor, your fellow youth workers and, most importantly, for your little brothers and sisters in Christ, your students.