By Patrick O'Connor
February 6-10 is National School Counseling Week, and before you go rushing down to the mall to find the perfect card, let me save you the trip. Try as you may, you will find nothing between the Valentine’s Day cards and the Mardi Gras cards (Mardi Gras cards?) that best expresses your feelings for your school counselor on the inside, with a picture of Snoopy, Hoops and Yo-Yo, or even Maxine on the outside—even though many suspect Maxine was a school counselor in a previous life.
This lack of commercial interest in National School Counseling Week is completely understandable, since no one really seems to know what school counselors do. As a result, Congress won’t be adding another national holiday to February any time soon, especially since they already make Abraham Lincoln and George Washington share one day in February for their birthdays.
National School Counseling Week may not have anything on the Super Bowl, but there are still plenty of reasons to thank school counselors for all they are doing, and to thank them this week:
The number of students they work with is far too high. Christopher Tremblay at the University of Michigan-Dearborn estimates there are 459 students for every public school counselor, far above the recommended caseload of 250 students per counselor, and far more than the 225 or so students some high school teachers work with.
They teach more than one subject. Considering teachers help students in only one subject (like English) and counselors help students with academic advising, personal counseling, career counseling, crisis management, college counseling, and getting to class on time, it’s understandable if they don’t have time to tell us what they do—they are too busy trying to do it.
They can’t do a lot of counseling. From scheduling to testing to discipline to being a last-minute sub for a Math class they aren’t certified to teach, counselors’ days are filled with activities that have nothing to do with helping students understand more about themselves or the world around them. Try to cook 3-minute eggs in 30 seconds, and you’ll have some idea about a counselor’s typical day.
They don’t get enough training. Recent studies show counselors themselves admit they were poorly trained for the work they’re supposed to do, especially when it comes to college counseling and career advising. They try and learn these skills on the job, but too often, they just don’t have the time. This is changing, but it has a long way to go.
They don’t get enough thanks. Students applying to college never tell counselors when they get admitted, parents asking for advice never call back to tell them what happened, and students wanting personal advice are too busy looking forward to thank those who kept them from moving backwards. Teachers see student progress in grades, but students don’t get graded in the counseling curriculum, since it’s tough to put a grade on a changed life.
Since a greeting card is out, what’s the best gift to give a caring counselor? U-M’s Christopher Tremblay says if you have a spare 5 billion dollars, you could hire enough counselors to get the country to that dream caseload of 250 to 1—for a year. If not, think about dropping an e-mail or note at the office, thanking the counselors for all they do, and asking what you can do to help. That may not seem like much, but you’d be amazed what a few words of encouragement can do at the right time.
Just ask a school counselor.