Friday, August 22, 2008

A Public School Teacher Reflects Upon School "Counselors"

Every organization has strangely named departments, job titles and such, but you can't beat public education when it comes to bizarrely misnamed occupations.

School "Counselor" for instance.

Now there probably was a time, way back in the hazy John Dewey past when school counselors actually counseled students about things like where to go to college, or how to best deal with the bully in the school cafeteria. But for years now public school "counseling" (at least at the schools I've worked at) has devolved into a bureaucratic data-entry position centered around creating/changing student schedules.

I've had the pleasure to work with some fabulous folks who are school counselors, and in every case these people took the position hoping they could help young people emotionally navigate the long dark, stormy journey through K-12 education, but found themselves spending hours upon hours upon days upon semesters punching dispassionate schedules and schedule changes into painfully glitchy District computer software.

Outside of the countless hours plodding through schedules, there's little time for anything other than the occasional "parent conference", at which bad little Johnny is forced to sit at a large table with really tired teachers who are pissed off they have to attend this stupid conference, a parent invariably glaring at Johnny with a look combining exasperation and violence, and the counselor who tries to de-escalate the anger and violence through a combination of "we want to use I statements today" and "Johnny, we're not here to attack you, but to see how we all can help".

Now I have to admit I've never been a school counselor, so I'm not 100% sure every public school counselor has their days 100% filled in such a manner. But from talking to some school counseling friends, and seeing them in action a lot over the years, I'm about 99.7% sure the job sucks.

Now being trained as counselors, these people are expert at keeping a sunny disposition despite their job conditions. Most of them are amazing at it, even when the few remaining seconds in their work day are filled with hearing stories about Parent X beating up Student Y, Family Z moving from hotel to hotel along Central because the police is chasing them, and other tales of horror and woe.

All of this is to say:
  1. I would never want to be a school "counselor" in a million, billion years;
  2. The great majority of school "counselors" are amazing people who are so altruistic and helpful that they stay in their counseling jobs despite the fact that little or no "counseling" is performed in them;
  3. There is the chance in a job so awful that a counselor will succumb to the horrible drudgery of constant scheduling/pitiful "parent conferences", and go, for lack of a better description, kinda like Colonel Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now" becoming a crazed, power-mad, bureaucratic tyrant.
As you might have guessed, it is #3 above that has led your humble blogger to address the issue of school "counselors". And yes, there is a more personal story being hidden within the text of the paragraphs, a personal story filled with outrage, anger and a strong desire to impale certain humans upon the same sort of ragged, pointy spike employed by Colonel Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now".

But, having had the chance to think about the mis-titled job of "school counselor" for a few hours, and the friends/acquaintances over the years who have vainly tried to put some counseling in that awful position, I've think I'll just skip a long tirade on the subject of #3 above, and merely relate my commiseration with the difficulties of being a school "counselor".

To be stuck desparately wanting to emotionally help young people, yet chained to a desktop computer punching in "4th Period, Social Studies; 5th Period, Typing; 6th Period, Language Arts....." ad infinitum must be its own version of Col. Kurtz final words....

"The Horror......the horror......."

Have a good weekend, everybody.


Anonymous said...

School councilors are the most underutilized job category in the entire APS.

Scheduling clerks could easily do the work that councilors are now doing.

With so many, many really messed up and hurting kids, with no where to turn, it is a pity that the people who call the shots in the APS, can't call this one differently.

Anonymous said...

I discovered recently that I am also experiencing the fallout from a #3 type administrator. You read my mind in your description. The only conclusion I can make is that there was a certain bizarre disconnect that occured when this supposedly wonderful and competent counselor made the move to administration (although I did not know her as a counselor--someone else told me she was great and a pleasure to work with). Now she seems to be paranoid, arbitrary, controlling, unresponsive, autocratic, and obtuse (while smiling). I guess my administrator is getting some kind of revenge on the system in her own catharsis of incompetence.

Anonymous said...

I discovered recently that I am also experiencing the fallout from a #3 type administrator.

Sounds like you ran into Sir Stephanie of Hays. My condolences!