By Patrick O'Connor
It isn’t unusual during this time of year for school counselors to get a lot of advice on how to do their job—but that advice sometimes comes in the most unusual ways.
“She’s scared of Elmo” can be a mother’s way of asking you to sit next to their child during the all-school puppet show.
“He’s just not into football anymore” could be what a parent says when their seventh grade son is trying to sort out the challenges of middle school.
“What do you mean, you don’t think Princeton will take him?” could mean—well, a million things, actually.
But even in this time of unusual advice giving, the counsel from Mike Boulus stands out and requires our collective attention.
Boulus is Executive Director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. When asked what Michigan could do to address this shortage, especially when dispensing advice on applying to college, Boulus answered “I think if we’re going to really do serious college counseling, we may have to push it into the classroom itself and arm our teachers with the information.”
In other words, one way to address the counselor shortage is to give the counselor’s duties to someone else.
Boulus raises a good point, in that good college advising is a school-wide activity—that’s the basis of the recent efforts to create a college-going culture in all schools K-12.
Still, I don’t think handing the main part of the college counseling process over to teachers is quite what everyone had in mind—including the teachers.
A counselor from Minnesota told me a high school in her region released their counselors and trained all of the teachers to become academic advisers, a role that included working with students in the college selection process. The results included some very unhappy teachers, dazed and confused students, and the rehiring of counselors the following year.
Still, Boulus’ quote, and the rest of the information in the article (at http://bridgemi.com/2011/09/students-left-with-little-guidance-in-high-schools/) provide several important reminders for school counselors:
• Most people don’t understand the depth and breadth of what we do. Most people know counselors help students with personal problems and postsecondary plans—it’s just that they think that’s all we do, or that it’s pretty easy. There’s more to the job than a ten-word description, but getting people to realize that can be a challenge.
• Tough economic times are making counselors pay the price for that lack of awareness. It may not be fair, but when the budget has to be cut, decision-makers will be more willing to let go of programs they either don’t understand or don’t see as effective. Does your boss know what you really do? How about the president of your school board?
• Counselors have to take on the issue of preparedness in college advising. One of the most visible parts of the counseling curriculum in college planning, and because this is an emotional issue for families, the slightest hurdle in getting help can become a mountain of discouragement for the student, and the foundation of a community assault on the integrity of your counseling program. More thorough college training at the MA level, and a proactive approach to college advising can prevent this.
It isn’t easy to take advice on how to do your job, and it’s even harder to find enough time to actually do your job, period. The times we live in demand we not only do these things, but also find a way to build key relationships that will help our community appreciate the value of counselor-centered services.