By : Patrick J. O'Connor, Ph.D.
April is indeed the cruelest month for school counselors. While it’s wonderful to hear the birds singing and to see some flowers in bloom, this is the time of year when our workload is at its busiest, no matter what grade level we serve:
* Counselors at all levels are leading their schools through required standardized testing;
* Middle and high school counselors are working with students on schedules for next year;
* Elementary counselors are dealing with students who have simply had it with winter;
* High school counselors are doing some major hand-holding to support seniors disappointed with college decisions
Taken individually, these tasks might be manageable—but add them all together, throw in a request to make a presentation to the school board or chaperone a basketball game, and this is more than enough to put you over the edge.
This kind of frustration is common among teachers, so what is it that seems to make it so acutely felt by counselors?
Because we are the integrity center for our schools.
Think about it. When a student mouths off in class and the teacher asks them to stop, does the counselor see that student if they do as their told? Of course not; we only see the students who talk back to the teachers, so we can help the student sort out their priorities and consider their behavior.
If a senior decides to drop an Advanced Placement class for a gym class, who has to tell them they have to report this class change to the colleges where they’ve been admitted? Right—us.
Who’s called in to mediate a tense principal-parent meeting? Who’s asked to come to the Spanish class and explain the importance of learning a language other than English? Who is supposed to help every student grow every day?
No wonder we’re tired. When it comes to taking a stand on an issue, we spend more time on our principled feet than the Statue of Liberty.
What’s the best way to catch a breather and stay standing tall? Let’s practice what we preach, and remember these three things:
* Keep the big picture in mind. Talking with Joey again about his failing report card may not get him to leave your office as a changed person, but it may give him something to think about tonight, or this weekend when he’s deciding if he should do his homework. We are Johnny Appleseed, planting ideas for growth in life, and they might not be hydroponics; give them the support and time they need to grow.
* Consider the alternative. Leading the charge for right over wrong may seem more like working in the Alamo than a counseling office, but the two can have much in common if we remember the importance of principle and commitment. It’s what we want the students to demonstrate, so these are our behaviors to model.
* Cherish the victories. With the enormous caseloads we carry, there has to be at least a dozen students a day who show some kind of personal growth. Focusing on the 400 who don’t seem to get it yet will keep us depressed, and won’t help anyone grow; be prepared to yell, whistle, and high five every piece of good news that comes your way.
April showers may bring May anxieties about who’s taking who to the big spring dance, but if we follow our own advice and are good to ourselves, the growth of all things dormant since the winter won’t be the only beautiful signs to dot our landscape in the next two months.