This is another post from a friend of mine who is in the first year of her studies as a social work student. We’ve followed her through pre-course shadowing and initial impressions. She’s now just started her first placement and is sharing some of her thoughts/reflections. Thanks very much to her for contributing.
Into the Fray
I think I’d just gotten started on the academic round of lectures,
tutorials, and essays when I last wrote about being a student, and it
already feels like an era away.
Towards the end of last term, everything got a bit more serious. We
had real essay deadlines, not just practice ones, and then the round
of placement organisation and interviews. And outside of the
cloistered college environment, the constant news about planned
government cuts which spun off a lot of discussion about our fears for
the various agencies and service users we’d been working with
One of our older lecturers commented at the end of term
that he couldn’t remember having seen students in general so
radicalised – my perception is not that we’re off organising
revolutions but just that everyone is very willing to challenge the
government and policies right now.
Lots of people are involved in demos, whether for social work, students, or uk uncut. In hindsight I have enjoyed writing essays far more than I was
expecting. I wasn’t entirely sure that writing academic essays was
going to be a good fit for social work (I still have some doubts.) But
having time and space to read up on specific areas of theory/practice
and figure out how they fit together, and how current thinking was
arrived at has been very interesting.
Still, the one thing you can’t get away from with academic work is that you’re pressured very heavily to build on previous work. This is fine if you want to write about areas that have been well researched, or don’t want to heavily
challenge established thinking.
The best advice I could give to anyone else is just to read a lot and talk to people. Particularly on theory, don’t stick to one book. Sometimes different writers will just click better with you and reading different descriptions and approaches to the same theories has really helped me.
I am also getting used to social work jargon in which phrases such as
‘kick off’, ‘move on’, ‘engage’, and ‘young person’ have very specific
meanings. It still feels a bit unnatural to pepper conversations about
real people with jargon words, especially when different agencies have
different conventions, ‘client’ or ‘service user’ as a classic
– Social Work Students Let Loose –
So now we are all out on placement. From being in college together
four days a week, we now just see each other for one day of lectures.
And in a few weeks time, it will be full time placement. And we’re in
a very diverse set of agencies, running the range from statutory to
voluntary. Some people have already been thrown in at the deep end,
others spending days reading policies before they get a glimpse of an
actual service user.
Before the end of last term, there was a lot of pressure about
placements. Not because the college couldn’t provide them – as far as
I know, everyone has one – but work based students or people with
statutory placements were being fairly loud about it. Privately, some
of us agreed that we thought some of the more interesting work would
be outside the statutory sector so I’m pleased with mine.
I’m based in an agency that works with young homeless people (well,
not homeless when they’re living with us). In the office, there are a
battery of CCTV cameras on the outside of the building, and since the
young people are fairly nocturnal, most of what I saw of them the
first few days was glimpses on the cameras in the evenings as they
left the place. It feels like Bill Oddie’s badger watch. The staff I’m
working with have a wealth of experience in the field. I try to
explain that I’m learning a lot just from being in the same room as
them and listening to them talk to each other.
The web of student, practice assessor, workplace supervisor, and
practice tutor still seems very confusing. They all seem to know what
they’re doing but it’s a lot of people to be on your best behaviour
for. Being assessed constantly does make me nervous, and wondering if
every little thing I say and do is going to end up on an assessment or
worse is actually quite a lot of pressure to live under for 100 days.
I have a wave of empathy for service users who go through this
process, especially when they need to impress people who can gatekeep
services a bit more key to their lives than just a good grade.