Monday, November 8, 2010

"So, what do school counselors actually do?"

People often ask me, “What do school counselors actually do?” There is this thinking that all we do is hang in our office, drink coffee, play on the computer and occasionally meet students. That is SO not the case. But it is still a hard job to describe.

We literally do a little bit of everything.

Being a school counselor is a multi-faceted job. It’s not like being a teacher (which is why when people say I teach, I quickly correct them). I don’t grade papers, plan lessons, or teach classes (well, sometimes I do teach classes, but it’s only one lesson at a time and usually only one week or so a month). It’s not an administrator job. I don’t have to expel students, deal with discipline and manage all the employees. But it’s also not strictly counseling. I am not legally authorized to counsel seriously disturbed students or handle certain issues. I often have to refer students out for services. It’s not that I don’t want to provide them. It’s that we are a public school and legally can’t provide them.

It also depends on the level. Elementary counseling is more like teaching- you go into classrooms all the time, you run groups, counsel students, and deal with more administrative issues like testing and discipline and just the day-to-day life of an elementary school. Middle school is more group work and individual counseling because of the age and issues (hello, bullying)! It also is scheduling, setting up community resources, SOL testing, and setting up students for high school. In Chesterfield county this also means SPECIALTY CENTERS!

High school is a whole ‘nother bag of goodies.

Sometimes I feel like a secretary, sometimes I feel like a social worker, sometimes I feel like a college admissions prep master, and sometimes I am a creative writer. I wear many hats. I schedule students, change schedules, plan student’s course of study, write college recommendation letters, plan and run testing (SAT, PSAT and some SOL), deal with emotional crisis’s, meet with parents, meet with teachers, coordinate meetings, work closely with the sped department, attend IEP/Triennial meetings, enter data for on-time graduation rates/statuses, enter and fix a student’s academic history (i.e. grades- sounds easy but takes FOREVER), go into classrooms (to talk about the PSAT, Senior year, Careers, Scheduling, ect.), have lunch duty, help out administrators with student data, help students with alternative education plans, helps students get online/night school classes, work with county attendance and homebound workers, send information to schools and agencies about the students, meet with students over a wide array of topics (and always with a smile on my face!), deal with courts/case managers/outside agencies, publish a scholarship newsletter, select students for scholarships, and anything else that has to do with a student and their success in high school. And these are things I have done during my first 13 weeks on the job. The list is constantly growing.

In grad school you learn mostly about how to be a counselor. I don’t get the chance to counsel students as much as I would like, because I really am favored more heavily for academic services, but I do deal with serious issues. They tend to come in waves. I do risk assessments for students threatening themselves or others, and I deal with depression, abuse, eating disorders, unhappy home lives and issues in school. But these do not happen all the time (well they happen all the time but students do not always seek my services). When they do, though, they are my focus to make sure the student is safe. Which means I have to contact the school psychologist, social worker and outside agencies if deemed necessary. It is never easy to deal with serious issues, but it is a huge reason on why I went into this field.

So as you see, it is hard to describe what a school counselors does and the role is ever changing. The work comes in waves- November and December are generally quiet months, but the beginning of the year and after January are insanely busy with finishing up college letters, scheduling for next year and summer school, and getting all the seniors graduated! It’s all fun though, and I try to do everything with a smile on my face.

But please don't call me a teacher!

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