Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Angst of National School Counselor Week

Patrick O’Connor is a past president 
of the National Association for College 
Admission Counseling and author of t
he book College is Yours in 600 
Words or Less
I have mixed feelings about National School Counseling Week. I like the idea behind it: the purpose is "to focus public attention on the unique contribution of professional school counselors within U.S. school systems", according to the American School Counseling Association (ASCA).

Then again, NSCW has its flaws—timing, for one.  It’s slated for February 7-11 (tell the truth, school counselors—you didn’t know this, did you?), when elementary school counselors are busy helping many of their 600 students work through cabin fever.  

At the same time, counselors in grades 6-12 are swamped helping their 800 students with, ahem, class scheduling for next year.  All of those graduate school classes we took in bubbling in forms seem to be paying off; evidently this is part of our unique contribution to U.S. school systems.

The second concern I have about NSCW is the party itself—specifically, who’s going to throw it?  Suggestions and supplies for celebrations can be found in full force on the ASCA Web site, but the only people who follow that site 
are (you guessed it) school counselors—and we’re supposed to be the honorees, not the party planners.  Is the public’s awareness and respect of our profession so low that we have to throw our own shindig by buying “Celebrate School Counseling” pencils in bulk and handing them out ourselves?

In a word, yes.

You may remember we were in pre-party mode this time last year when the Public Agenda report came out, saying most young people saw their school counselor as a hindrance in their college search.  This wasn’t news to us, but the fact that the Gates Foundation spent money on a study to berate our efforts publicly stung like the January wind.  (Note to Bill: Next time you want to spend thousands of dollars figuring how out to help school counselors, use $20 to take your local school counselor out to lunch.  They’ll tell you the same thing any study will; you can spend the rest on bulk pencils, which we’ll pass out when it’s time for scheduling.)

The news doesn’t get much better when you look beyond college advising.  Whether it’s students with personal problems, learning challenges, family issues, career needs, addiction practices, or questions about the way the world works, school counselors have the skills to help, and the will to help.  They also have too many students (or buildings) on their caseload, too many duties that have nothing to do with counseling, too few administrators who understand what we do, and too little time to explain it to the administrators who don’t.

Just like the Public Agenda findings, it’s not new news that the football coach gets to teach three sections of weight training and run two study halls in the off-season, while the school counselor has to cancel the career awareness seminar because the principal  “needs” them to cover Algebra 2 for a sick teacher.  No, this news isn’t new—but it’s still very sad.

Maybe throwing our own party is the best idea after all.  Find a sympathetic parent who will put together a nicely designed fact sheet on what you could do, and want to do, to improve the lives of your students, and wrap a slice of pizza in each one.  Your students and colleagues may only glance at it briefly before throwing it out, but it may get the attention of your principal or even the media. 

Something’s got to change, and change is what we learned to help others do when we were in graduate school, not scheduling. If nothing else, National School Counseling Week is a good opportunity to tell that to someone.—better yet, tell it to everyone.

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