The Casting Dock

Category — school counseling

lessons learned on the job

I have been a school counselor for two years now and I must say, I love it. As with any job, there are certainly ups and downs, but over-all I feel it suits me well and was an excellent choice for this time in life. Five, ten, fifteen years down the line? Who knows. This girl works one year at a time. But for now, it’s fabulous and I am SO thankful.

In reflecting on the past couple years, I’ve definitely learned more about myself, the real life (not theoretical) expectations of this role, and just life in general…here are a few lessons learned along the way…

1. Every day is unpredictable. At times there is a certain sense of anxiety to that idea, but such is the case when working with people. In a school of nearly 600 kids, 100 adults, and parents just a phone call away, it is unavoidable. A huge part of me loves that you never know what is coming next, that you have to be flexible and think on your feet. It keeps things fresh. I remind myself of this on the days when I long for a boring, predictable desk job. The reality is, I would go out of my mind in about a week. But every once in a while, the idea is enticing.

2. Kids are awesome and hilarious. No matter what the day brings, their smiling faces and funny little comments put things in perspective and provide the perfect spark of joyfulness and entertainment. They are the best part of every single one of my days.

3. The crazy days where it seems the poo hits the fan and I end up there hours after the closing bell making phone calls and tying up loose ends, while exhausting, are always more invigorating and life-giving than the standard days. Seems counter-intuitive, but it was a good lesson in knowing thyself (and another reason why the desk job really wouldn’t be so great).

4. The loudest voices, while usually a shockingly small minority, often dictate policy for the masses. It can be annoying, but it’s life.

5. Kids want to do well and they desire to please. If they are not succeeding in either of those areas, it’s not because they are manipulative or “bad seeds”; it’s because they don’t have the skills to succeed. While sometimes their reactions or behavior can be frustrating or confusing from an adult perspective, I have found this always to be true. They want to do well. Some just need a little extra help.

6. The vast majority of people–teachers and parents–are hard-working, understanding, compassionate, and level-headed team players. Don’t ever let the small minority who are not taint your perception of the whole. This has been a huge life lesson. I am so thankful for my devoted colleagues and supportive parents!

7. Documentation, while often a giant pain in the arse, can most definitely save your arse. An area of constant focus and improvement.

8. I am a pretty easy going person and I tend to engage life with a positive presupposition. I assume that others have good intentions and are generally caring and competent. I assume that most things will work out in life and there aren’t too many true “emergencies” that we will face on a daily basis. I also assume that children will make mistakes, many mistakes, because they are learning. But most of the time I take those mistakes as simply learning opportunities–kids being kids–not as alarming situations where kids are acting with ill intent or out to harm. While in general I think this is a positive trait, I have learned working in a large public school that sometimes my threshold for what should be flagged as concerning or a potential emergency is higher than other peoples’. And regardless of whose perception is more accurate, I need to lower my threshold a bit and exercise the “better safe than sorry” rule even if that means sometimes reacting in an overly cautious way.

9. Kids are hilarious. Have I mentioned that? If so, it bears repeating.

I’m sure there will be more to come as I learn and grow, but now I have a starter list at least…

March 3, 2013   2 Comments

a message left on my whiteboard at school.

Glad to know I’m not needed.

Kids are awesome.

May 31, 2012   2 Comments

the pros and cons on the job front.

A quick update on my life as an elementary guidance counselor (BEST. JOB. EVER.):

Let’s start with…

THE PROS:

* I HAVE A JOB! For the rest of the year anyway.
The maternity leave position that I originally accepted back in March 2011 had run its course and I was about to get booted out of my fabulous elementary school come January. Enter valiant principal to the rescue! My principal advocated VERY strongly for me and the district creatively found a way to keep me by tacking on another guidance counselor position at a different elementary school. So I repeat: I HAVE A JOB THROUGH JUNE!

* With a job comes a paycheck! MAJOR pro in this here scenario.

* I am SO SO SO thankful to continue building experience throughout the year. VERY beneficial when I resume the job search in the fall.

*I would have gone stir crazy after about 3 days of unemployment. Once I’m bored, basically every area of my life suffers. So my husband is especially thankful for this one, I’m sure.

* Since this is a new position, my schedule is still being sorted out and my workload has been light so my days are significantly shorter than they were at my old job. Like 4 hours a day shorter. So that’s a lot of extra life-living time. And just a nice work-life balance. I like balance.

* A JOB! A PAYCHECK! MORE EXPERIENCE IN A FIELD I LOVE!!

* The kids and staff at my old school sent me off with sooooo much love and appreciation! I seriously have HUNDREDS of kid-drawn cards and letters (the best kind!) which I will showcase on here sometime.

THE CONS:

* Between students and staff, I have over 600 new names and faces to learn. Whew…it can be a tad overwhelming.

* I LOVE LOVE LOVED my old school and miss my kids (and the staff!) terribly! Seriously, on my first day at my new job I felt like a mother who was dropping off her kids at daycare for the first time. I just kept looking at the clock thinking about which groups I had at that time and wondering how the kids were doing. It is A-MA-ZING how quickly you get attached to those little munchkins.

* I had built a really strong relationship with one little boy in particular and I knew my departure would be especially difficult on him. Poor little thing already has legit attachment issues. Add me to the list of adults who abandoned him. Seriously breaks my heart.

* It takes a lot of time and energy to learn not only all of the new people, but all of the dynamics of a new place, the real culture and vibe of the joint. And then not only to learn it, but to learn how to assimilate into it so that you build the trust and respect of the staff while maintaining boundaries. I had found that balance at my old school. It took a little while, but I felt like I had the trust and respect of the teachers, even those couple pockets of tricky ones. It’s just hard to muster the energy to re-learn all those things in a new setting when I loved my old setting so much.

As dramatic as it sounds, I just feel a sense of loss. Everything about my old school fit me, my personality, and my strengths well. I worked especially well with the school psychologist (we were the “guidance team”) and principal, built strong relationships with the teachers, and connected big time with those 450 little faces. LOVE those little faces. It was a lot of work and evolved into routine 12 hour days, but I loved being a part of that place.

I know I’ll get there with my new school. Honestly, kids are awesome anywhere you go. So vibrant and trusting and honest. It will just take time. And I’m okay with that.

This is week two in the new school and it’s time I funnel my mental and emotional energy away from the old and into the new. I am so incredibly appreciative (and flattered!) that the district found a way to keep me and now that my “week of sadness and mourning” is over, I’m ready to dive back in with enthusiasm and see what the new year and new school will bring.

January 19, 2012   4 Comments

Counseling Corner 2: race relations in elementary school

Let me paint the scene for you. I am sitting in the principal’s office along with a little black boy I’ll call Jamaal and a little Asian boy I’ll call Michael trying to get to the bottom of a bus incident. Bus incidents, just as a little aside, comprise about 20% of interpersonal “incidents,” with recess taking the brunt at 65%, the bathroom taking 10%, and miscellaneous other places taking that last little 5% sliver. Anyhow, so we’re sitting there and after about 15 minutes, the facts seems pretty clear (they’re never crystal when you’re dealing with kids): Michael wanted to sit next to Jamaal so he switched seats, which is prohibited on the bus. Jamaal told him he wasn’t allowed to and Michael thought he was being mean so he called him the N word. Jamaal got upset and shoved/hit him (the stories never align clearly). Michael hit back, etc. They land in the principal’s office.

Now this is where it gets fascinating when we are fleshing this all out. Here is a little sliver cut from the middle of our conversation:

Me: Michael, that is a very, very hurtful word. Do you know why Jamaal would get so upset when you used that word?

Michael: No.

Me: Do you know what that word means?

Michael: No.

Me: Well, why did you use it? And where have you heard it before?

Michael: I just heard my friend say it once when he was playing a video game and he was getting mad.

Me: OK, Jamaal, do you think you can tell Michael why you felt so upset when he used that word. It sounds like he doesn’t really know what it means.

Jamaal: Well, a long time ago there was this guy named Martin Luther King Jr. and he worked really hard so that people with my color skin wouldn’t be treated mean. Because a long time ago the…(pause)…(says to me)…can I use the b and w words?

Me: What do you mean?

Jamaal: (whispers) black and white.

Me: Yes, of course you can use black and white. There’s nothing wrong with those words.

Jamaal: OK, so a long time ago the black people and the white people couldn’t do things together, like they had to use different bathrooms and go to different schools and people were really mean to the people with black skin. And the white people would hurt the black people and call them bad names. And it wasn’t fair.

Me: So Michael, back when the black people and the white people were treated very differently, some people would use the N word towards the black people to be mean and to show that they thought the black people weren’t as good as the white people. It was a very sad and hurtful time where the black people didn’t have the same privileges as the white people and just like Jamaal said, it was really, really unfair. So when you use that word towards Jamaal, it makes him remember back to the time when people with his color skin were treated very meanly. In fact, I bet his grandpa has even talked about living in those times because it wasn’t actually that long ago.

Jamaal shakes his head “yes.”

Me: So he remembers all the stories his grandpa has told him and that is very sad to think about because that was a really awful time. That word is very, very hurtful, especially for people with his color skin and it is not a word that we ever, ever use. So when you called Jamaal that word, he got really hurt and really upset and he didn’t want to be near you anymore, which is why he pushed you. Do you understand why it was very hurtful now and why he would have gotten so upset?

Michael: (hangs his head low and speaks softly) Yes. I’m really sorry Jamaal. I didn’t know that.

Jamaal: I’m sorry for hitting you too.

Michael: It’s okay because that word is really bad so I understand why you hit me. I’m sorry.

I was just absolutely floored by this interaction. I was SO impressed that my little Jamaal understood and could explain this piece of history so clearly and concisely. And I was so glad that my little Michael could connect it with their situation and why him using that word would have been so hurtful and upsetting to Jamaal.

These are the moments, I tell ya.

{On a sidenote, it’s amazing the things that we say without having the slightest clue what they actually mean or how they might affect others. Kids are not alone in that.}

{mlk. water fountain. school.}

December 3, 2011   4 Comments