This is a tough time of year to be a school counselor. You are giving every free moment to life at school, running the awards assembly, putting the final touch on next year’s schedules, calling parents to tell them graduation will have to wait until summer school’s over, and consoling the senior whose parents didn’t really want to hear about summer school. It’s the busiest time of the year, an intense time when you say goodbye to students rich with promise, wish the best to students you’ll never see again…
…and face that quiet moment in your office when the last bell rings, wondering if you could have done more.
I remember that feeling—you can’t help but have it when your caseload weighs in at about 475 students, and you’re lucky to get to know half of them in any given year. My first few years found me relying heavily on instinct when I worked with the crisis students; knowing what to say to students with low grades or absent parents was a natural part of the counselor I’d become, so it was easy being the go-to guy when things got tough.
The larger challenge was helping students make college plans that were as big as their aspirations. When less than 50% of your students head off to college, you want two things to happen: You want to make sure those heading off to college find the best place to succeed, and you want the “less than 50” to grow to “way more than 50”—not because everyone should go to college, but because not everyone who should go to college gets the help they deserve.
Time went by, and I gained a little confidence in helping students with college plans. Thanks to the patient advice of many, many colleagues, I started to become the go-to guy for college, too, watching a lot of first generation students find their way to—and through—college. Like the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, that’s a story that just doesn’t get old.
After a while, I became one of those patient colleagues, a little amazed my fellow counselors would ask me college questions, but glad I could help them out, and even more glad I could help their students out. Once I saw how many counselors were looking for help, I begged colleges to offer more training to counselors in college advising, but no one saw the need the same way I did…
…so I started a class myself.
We’re in year five now, and the class is taught through the continuing education programs at community colleges. The tuition is cheap, and the camaraderie is amazing; 15-20 school counselors giving up one week of an already short summer, digging in to development theory, curriculum development, and college application logistics. They each leave with a plan and a program to make college access stronger in their buildings, and when they e-mail me their success stories, it’s kind of like It’s a Wonderful Life on steroids.
I’m offering the class again this summer, including an online version that creates a community of learners that’s just as fierce. I know your summer is short, but if you keep thinking you’d like to do more with college planning, there’s a way to do that now. You keep telling your students to dare to dream; maybe now it’s the time to lead by example, and dare to do.
I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.