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I’m part of a team of high school counselors. Together, we provide a comprehensive school counseling program that includes career, academic, and social and emotional services for all the students at our school.
We’re usually the first line of defense to make sure students get the services they need. We’re their mentor, their advisor, and their confidant. We make sure they have the resources to do whatever they wish to accomplish.
I’ll meet with students individually to make sure that they’re emotionally OK, feel motivated to do well in class, and have a plan for the future. I try to get students to think about what interests them and how they can make that interest into a career and be successful once they leave school. If they don’t plan to go to college, I make sure they have a résumé and consider alternatives, like a certificate.
At least once a semester, each counselor teaches a lesson. We don’t have a classroom, which means we’re taking up scheduled instructional time, so we try to tie in our lessons with the teacher’s curriculum. I might help students write a résumé, sharpen their job interview skills, learn how to form healthy relationships, and so on.
The team also coordinates a bunch of activities, including parent-teacher conferences and college visits. And we help with crisis response and find special accommodations for students who need that.
It depends on the school district. My contract is from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., but I don’t know anyone in education who leaves at 3. Usually, I’m here until 3:30 or 4 p.m. During events, I might be here until 10 p.m. And if there’s a standardized test, I might come in early.
I have a master’s degree in education and school counseling. My master’s program lasted 2 years and covered K-12 education. I learned counseling techniques for all school ages, for both individuals and groups. My program also required a semester-long internship, which lets you get experience at a specific school level.
To work at the high school level, I needed a clear understanding of college and career readiness. The goal in a high school is to help students successfully contribute to society, so I had to learn to be a leader and advocate for my students.
It’s important to really listen and empathize. If you don’t like people, counseling might not be the right career for you.
Most students want someone to listen but may have a hard time expressing what they’re feeling. School counselors are trained specifically to foster an open environment, which helps students know that we’re here to help them. We want to give them space to tell us what’s going on and get to know them better.
I get to work with students daily, and every counselor will tell you that’s the best part of the job. Being able to see my students grow, mature, and become confident over 4 years makes me proud.
I also like that I’m never quite sure what a day might be like. There’s a lot of variety every day, as I tailor things to what each student needs. Or I might collaborate with professionals in my school, district, town, or somewhere else in the country. People are really open and willing to share tips and experiences.
It’s difficult to manage the sheer number of students we’re responsible for. Sometimes, extra responsibilities are put on my plate, which detracts from the time I can spend with students.
It’s also hard to watch a student struggle. You get close to the students, so it can be emotionally draining because you want to fix the problem and know you can’t. That’s a difficult part of the job, but it comes with it. And you do feel good when students and families get through issues.
Attend as many professional development opportunities as you can. This helps expand your network so you can reach out to people for support and ideas. The first year, in particular, is overwhelming, and you’re just trying to survive. If you surround yourself with positive people, they’ll help you stay afloat.
Also, get involved in your school. Volunteer to chaperone a dance, for example, or attend student plays. That makes students and parents more comfortable with you and more likely to come to you when they need help.
We need the right people, people who truly want to help students. You have to constantly think of how to be better because you’re doing it for them. One adult believing in a student makes all the difference to that kid.
Dennis Vilorio, "School counselor," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 2016.