“Every child you pass in the hall has a story that needs to be heard. Maybe you are the one meant to hear it.” – Bethany Hill
Every child and every student deserves to be heard. If they deserve to be heard, there must be someone who is not only available but also willing to hear them. As social beings that we are, we all long for moments and opportunities to share our thoughts and talk about how we feel. Depending on what we experience growing up, humans learn to either freely express themselves or suppress their feelings. While the latter can be bad, there’s something even worse: not having the right person to express your feelings to.
Students—whether nursery children, teenagers, or young adults—are in the formative years of their lives. Aside from the stress and fears of schooling, they are faced with the woes of trends around them, pressure from friends, and conflicting thought processes that are being pushed on them from several angles. Most students are unable to handle all of these on their own, and just like every other human, they could make do with some help. But more importantly, they could make do with some counseling.
These students have friends, siblings, and parents. But more often than not, these categories of people are not able to provide the right answers or the guidance they need during specific times in their lives. Mind you, it may not be because these people are not sensible enough to know what the child is going through, but they may not be fully equipped to handle the situation of seeing life through the lens of that child and providing the right answer to every question. Counselors are people who have been equipped to do this.
Counselors can and should be everywhere—hospitals, religious organizations, rehabilitation centers, work environments, and schools. Amongst all of these categories of places, schools remain one of the highest employers of counselors across the world. This is because children and young adults, who make up the bulk of the population in schools, constantly need to be guided. How much guidance they are able to obtain while they are in school goes a long way to influence their life outcome since they spend most of their early and formative years in the school environment.
Who is a school counselor?
A school counselor is a professional who is employed in a school or other educational institution to provide wholesome guidance to students. A school counselor provides academic, career, emotional, social, and mental support. The school counselor should always be able to provide basic to intermediate guidance in all of these areas. However, a school counselor may be specialized in just one area of concern such as the mental health, career growth, or academic performance of students.
School counselors work in all kinds of educational institutions, whether public or private, from nurseries and high schools to universities and colleges. Depending on the educational level where they work, their job description and job title may be subject to change. For example, it is more common to have the titles “career counselor” and “advisor” attached to counselors in universities and other higher institutions of learning.
Why is the role of a school counselor important?
You might be wondering what makes the role of a school counselor so special. Well, a lot does, as you will now see from the following points:
They guide students to overcome social and behavioral challenges
Social vices, family challenges, and peer pressure—these are some of the major challenges students face. The counselor is available to guide them through any of these trying situations they may be going through. The counselor will often meet with students one-on-one to discuss these circumstances and the counselor is meant to keep each student’s information confidential unless it is necessary for another authority to be aware.
Many a time, it starts with poor academic performance, and then the student is required to see the counselor or career advisor, who is then able to listen to the student and talk them through the challenges underlying their behavior. Counselors are such dedicated individuals, often having to stay on a student patiently until they are ready to share the real situation. It is only on a few occasions that a student is so eager to talk about their challenges to the counselor. And even when that happens, the counselor does that best by offering insight from their wealth of experience and understanding of psychology to help the student overcome the situation.
Report cases of concern and refer students for additional support when necessary
Although school counselors are supposed to keep information about their students very confidential, they also know when to seek higher help. This could be reporting a vice to the appropriate authorities or referring a student for adequate mental or physical healthcare. Typically, the school counselor only offers superficial help. They are not doctors or psychologists. Their role demands that they recognize their limits and are able to hand urgent and complex cases over to the right specialists.
Beyond the job ethics of the school counselor, this ensures concerned students get all the help they need to address their unique situations. A student may need to be removed from an abusive home or may require special attention to be able to hone helpful life skills due to a certain medical condition. In some other cases, reporting the special case of the student will not only help the student in question but will also keep other students safe. This is particularly true if the concerned student is prone to violence or unethical acts due to their situation.
At other times, the school counselor may just need to discuss a child’s special situation with their teacher, parents, or guardian. Elementary school children often require some special attention of which their parents and teachers may not readily be aware. The school counselor can point them to it and also guide them on how they can attend to those needs.
Work with students to develop helpful life skills
Beyond intellect, a student needs a proper grasp of certain life skills to be able to excel within and outside the school environment. Take time management, decision-making, and listening skills for example: students need to learn how to effectively manage their time, listen, and communicate well in order to be successful students. If a student is deficient in any of these life skills and reaches out to the school counselor, the counselor guides the student to develop those skills.
The counselor does this by assigning tasks, recommending resources, or a combination of both. The class teacher may never get to relate with the student personally enough to discover some of these deficiencies and help them snap out of them.
Guide students through making career and other life choices
Many times, students are not sure of what they want career-wise—and even when they do, they are often afraid to tread that path. One student is not sure if he should continue to pursue his passion for becoming a footballer or if he should follow the more straightforward and dignified route to being a lawyer. The other student is not sure if she should stay close to her aging parents for college or if she should move to the other side of the country with her friends for college. Still another student is not sure whether it is too late to change their mind and make a major change in their intended career path.
These are genuine fears that students face, and as flimsy as they may seem to grown-ups, they do mean a lot to students. Worse is that they may harbor regrets for their life if they discovered they’ve made the wrong choices. Young people are always scared of harboring such regrets, and that gets them fidgety when making life decisions.
While the school counselor does not impose choices on students, the counselor does help them to see the pros and cons attached to each option, including underlying factors such as the role of passion, family and friends, and finances in such decisions. And whenever a student is feeling discouraged or out of place with his or her unique passions, the counselor is available to offer reassurances that keep the student going.
Provide and analyze student behavior-related data
School counselors can become active participants in education, counseling, mental health, and psychology-related research. Since they interact with students firsthand, they are often able to provide behavior-related data that becomes useful in research. They can also go ahead to become researchers themselves by talking about their novel discoveries and analyzing data they’ve been able to collect from interacting with students.
These discoveries and results retrieved from analyzed data coupled with results from already existing literature will continue to guide several academic and educational psychology procedures. When the behavioral patterns of students are well understood, they are better cared for and trained to become the best version of themselves.
Offer key insights and guide schools, teachers, and parents in making decisions
The school counselor communicates from the students’ perspective and that is why they are better able to relate to the fears and bothers of students. Also, because the school counselor has been relating with students over time, they have enough information at their fingertips to be able to decipher what would be the best for the students.
Therefore, the school counselor is able to offer insight to schools, teachers, and parents on how best they can attend to the needs of the students, what assistance they should provide, and what approach they should take when attending to situations.
Teach on specific social issues of concern
We all already know about such issues that commonly affect students: drug abuse, bullying, peer pressure, sexual assault, and so on. Truthfully, the average student already knows about these issues, but they are not effectively equipped to handle them unless they are taught. The school counselor is the best person to help students get familiar with these concepts and to understand how to deal with them.
The school counselor may be tasked to hold periodic sessions with the whole school or smaller groups to address these issues and encourage students who may be victims of any of the vices to speak out. To sum up this point, the counselor plays a crucial role in developing a safe and comfortable environment for the students.
Assist in developing teaching materials
School counselors might not necessarily be teachers, but they know enough about a variety of topics to be called educators. They primarily offer guidance to students, but they may be able to draw from their wealth of knowledge and experience to outline very effective procedures for other teachers to pass knowledge on to students.
Counselors understand the psychology of students, especially as it relates to their age and educational level. They can deduce their attention span, the kind of illustrations they will be able to relate to more, and what the average interest and ability of each student are. These are factors that play a huge role in how a student learns. They should therefore also be considered when preparing teaching materials or preparing subject curriculums. The school counselor can help play a crucial role in doing this.
Along those same lines, the school counselor can guide schoolteachers on how they can address certain subjects or approach teaching a specific age or class of students with special needs. For example, students with disabilities would require special attention in the classroom and, unless teachers are trained on how to provide this attention, they may not achieve desired results with their fellow students.
How do you become a school counselor?
- Get the right education
Becoming a school counselor is quite easy. You may be able to get a head start in your career with a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field such as education, psychology, or counseling. However, a master’s degree does make you the best fit for a career as a school counselor.
A master’s degree is all the more recommended if you do not have prior experience or education in counseling. The master’s in counseling programs at St. Bonaventure University, for example, will equip you to become either a school counselor or a mental health counselor even without a prior bachelor’s degree in counseling, education, or psychology. At the end of the online program, which you can complete in less than two years, you will earn a Master of Science in Education degree (MSED).
Counseling is quite a popular program, so most institutions offer the program at the master’s level. If you already have your master’s degree in counseling, you can take your career a step further by obtaining a doctorate degree in counseling, psychology, or education, depending on the specific aspect of counseling you want to focus on.
- Obtain a recognized license
Most US states and countries of the world require licensure for school counselors. It is important to determine what license is recognized in your jurisdiction and work toward obtaining it. At other times when a license is not compulsory, having one might still give you an edge over other job applicants and present you as someone who is professional and takes your career seriously.
- Start practicing
Yes. Once you have the right education and licensure, you’d need to start practicing. You can start by applying for internship opportunities which can help you build years of work experience for better job offers. Internships will also help you learn on the job as you will most likely be assisting a senior school counselor as an intern. You may also apply for entry-level jobs where employers will not be so bothered about what relevant work experience you have.
As a school counselor, you will be doing a lot of talking, smiling, and interacting with children and young adults who can be very difficult to deal with in that they may not see reason with you trying to help them. You can get familiar with interacting with children of school age by reading books on children’s psychology, watching relevant videos, and even practicing mock sessions with your friends, siblings, or children.
Although less talked about than other jobs, the role of a school counselor is a noble one. It is interesting to note that the demand for school counselors has been growing over the years. This leaves much to say on how important such a role is. Beyond stuffing students with academic knowledge, the right counseling goes a long way to prepare the student to manage the complexities of the world. School counselors help children and young adults become total students. Perhaps, by getting to talk about this more often, the whole world will get to know how important the role of a school counselor is, both for the student and the school.