I just had to turn off the evening news because a person in this role was being interviewed about students. Sometimes I just have to shut the news off to save my sanity! I had children in k-12 school for 20 consecutive years! I’ve seen how the role of guidance counselors has changed. I get it. Professions evolve, especially one like guidance that addresses the needs of students at the current time. Times have changed, therefore “counseling” needs to change. It is to be expected in any profession that deals with our youth and how they develop. The same could be said of teaching and nursing. I’ve counseled both students and parents in both a teaching and a nursing role. It’s hard. I’m not saying it’s not. But…
AND, it is a huge BUT – the level of “ed” speak is ridiculous. And, our local district now refers to these professionals as student services, which really drives me nuts. I see the counseling role evolving again…focusing less on achieving college entry to more skill-oriented career paths. This, also, is fine. At least one of our sons could have benefited from that approach if not two. But, that wasn’t what was “pushed” when they were in school. It was all about a four-year plan, preparing for college entry, scholarship, and service hours that were ultimately obtained through a system of who knows who, for the most part. Do the counselors realize how the push to know what you want to do with the rest of your life as an incoming ninth-grader does to a high achieving or gifted student with some anxiety about the future? It does a job, let me tell you.
Since my husband and I were both medical professionals and I transitioned into teaching, my boys didn’t need much “counseling.” That said, we did rely upon guidance counselors for other needs and I’ll get to that in a minute.
My most clear personal memory of a guidance counselor was from junior high (7-8th grade). This gentleman asked me during a perfectionistic meltdown what the worst thing that could happen to me would be if I didn’t get all A’s in my classes. It was an appropriate thing to ask. I was “wigging out” and really, there was not any reason to. The “worst-case” scenario was really hard to even come up with – there was none. My parents weren’t behind my grade grubbing; I had assumed this mentality myself. They would still love me and I would still be a success if I didn’t get all A’s, wouldn’t I? Yes!
But, during the last twenty years when my boys were in school, my feelings about guidance counselors varied. The bottom line is that my boys were served best when the counselor really, really knew them well. And, with a caseload of several hundred students in high school, that is hard to do. I think the high school counselors knew my sons fairly well. Our oldest had a counselor that really supported him when he chose to finish the last two years of high school online through a different system. She knew his needs were not being met by our system, despite advocating for him for two years. I do not think she was surprised when he transferred out. But, she retired. My two younger sons had a different but nice counselor. I really feel she made an effort to get to know them and meet their needs. I am grateful to her for letting me have input and share previous experiences with her. Still, there was a great deal that just wasn’t right with the system, most of which is that the “squeaky wheel most often gets the grease.”
My boys had needs. Every student has needs. Do not let anyone tell you differently. The counselor for my youngest said, “I didn’t realize he had needs” when I approached him about our son being left off a list of TAG students because he elected not to take advanced English as a freshman. Really? And, our middle son should have had his needs addressed when a teacher disrespected him in front of his peers. He was a hands-on learner, not an ass-kissing, suck-up student, which was the type that did well with her. (Sorry, I’ve needed to get that out for years.)
Some ask or even beg for things (course entry, special services, course withdrawal without penalty, etc.) and those that speak up, usually get what they want or need. When I spoke up, it was not just for my students but others like them (TAG students). Others were included in my request, receiving the services as well as my boys. But, let me tell you – it never, ever worked the other way around. No one advocated for us – my boys – in exchange, with the exception of one or two teachers. In other words, none of the other parents whose children received services as a result of my inquiry or advocacy did the same for us. It’s always been something that has bothered me.
Guidance needs to be individualized, not trend following. Therefore, I really don’t see how it can be done in an excellent fashion unless the counselor is literally working 24/7. And, doing that for several hundred students at a time is really an impossibility.
So, what do I suggest? First, get past the “ed speak.” Career path, college-bound, student services, four-year plans are all terms that counselors are throwing around, especially when interviewed. These terms change like the wind. Be realistic about your expectations. You know your student best. Establish respectful, open lines of communication with the counselor assigned to your child. Do your own research. Look up the things that are being “pushed” but don’t seem right. We thought our sons had to file for FAFSA as part of the college admission process. Nope, they didn’t. We found out after inquiring with the universities on our second go-round with college admissions. If you think your child needs access to another opportunity or a different path, speak up. But, do so only after you find out about it yourself. Or, better yet have your child speak up. It’s great training for when they have to address problems on their own as a young adult – whether at college or not.
I’m not opposed to guidance counselors. But, they have a huge job, and sometimes it is so big, it just doesn’t get done. I’d like to see the “ed speak” stop. Just be there to help our students figure it out but without pressure, shaming, or pushing a specific path. What was once the push to send students to college, has now become a push for skill-oriented career paths. Neither is right or wrong, and neither is a one-size-fits-all solution.