An English teacher’s daughter got into Princeton, so now she tells every Ivy League applicant just what to do to get in. A History teacher’s son got no financial aid, so he now tells students not to bother to apply.
Welcome to our world. Like it or not, the best way to reduce this unhelpful helping is to replace it with what you’d like them to say about college—more specifically, what you’d like them to say about college advising.
Tell them what you do The vast majority of teachers are really more than happy—and far too busy—not to offer college advice. But that can be a problem as well. If a student comes to them with a college question, they’re more likely to say “I can’t help you” than “That’s a great question. Your counselor likely has the answer.”
To turn the tide, you need to start by making sure teachers know just what postsecondary planning services you offer. Your message needs to emphasize your services include all plans for life after high school, not just four-year colleges (most teachers think we only talk four-year college, because they only went to four-year college). Ideally, you’d get about 15-20 minutes at a faculty meeting or professional development day, spending about half of it on your college counseling curriculum and how it’s implemented.
Tell them what you don’t do This presentation should also briefly address some common misconceptions about the counselor’s role in the college advising process. Like many parents, teachers often think we are the ones who “get students into college”, or that we will “generously edit” student essays. Briefly touching on the things we don’t do can clear up a lot of confusion in a hurry.
Walk them through the student process This may sound like a lot, but this is something you can do in about three Power Point slides. Using this as your guide, this explanation gives teachers some idea what their students are going through in the process, and when. This can sharpen teacher’s college radar, knowing when to send students for your help at specific times of their search. You might even consider sending out a faculty email at the start of each month, reminding them which part of the process students are involved in by grade level. This kind of communication is valued by teachers, as long as it’s short and to the point.
Tell them how they can help We’re going to devote next week’s column to this topic, but it’s important for now to save the last 5 minutes of your faculty presentation for a summary of how teachers can help in the process. This has to include some reasonable questions, comments, and activities they can do that won’t take much time. It also has to include more than “Just send the kids to us”, since there really are some practical things teachers can help with that will allow you to focus on more complex issues—and since saying that turns teachers off to your program.
Telling them what not to do You may want to address some common misconceptions about the college selection process in general, but don’t try to fix individual behaviors in a public setting. The teacher who tells students not to bother with FAFSA needs a conversation with you, if only so they can get their frustrations off their chest for once and for all, and get a better understanding of how they can help students. “Praise in public, correct in private” is definitely the rule of the day.