Ever wondered what a school counselor really does?
We all walked by that office at some point during the school year. We wondered if one of the unfamiliar adults wandering the hallway was the fabled school counselor. So let's get an inside look at who they are and what they do:
u/GoldPastures posed the question: School counselors of Reddit, what is your job really like?
and here we got our inside look.
I am a school psychologist/counsellor at a fairly high end independent school in NSW Australia. I work in the prep campus (kindergarten to year 6).
I love my job! The day is a mix of individual counselling (for students with anxiety, depression, difficulties regulating emotions, engaging with peers, ASD), individual assessment (cognitive assessment and achievement testing) as well as running proactive and preventative mental health programs. There are also lots of meetings with parents and teachers to field referrals and consolidate interventions.
I am quite fortunate in my position to be able to work proactively, and just in the one location. Many school counsellors get stuck figuratively slapping on bandaids week to week, and are often spread throughout many schools. They also end up having to roll out assessments en masse in order to allow students to access funding support, which can be extremely monotonous.
Emotional Band-Aids. Serious issues arrive and we either have to file a CPS report, refer to outside agency, or contact parents. Dealt with variety of things.... cutters in 5th grade, domestic abuse witnesses, suicide outcries.... these are not everyday occurrences, but frequent enough. For the most part, are not certified to deal with these hard core issue, so thus the referral out. Daily basis it's guidance lessons on bullying, self esteem, healthy living, respect, etc. Also students come in when they just need someone to talk to. A big part of my job is also identifying students who might need to be referred for special education or dyslexia assessments and processing the paperwork. Oh, and meeting wit parents and teachers.... that's a big part too. Helping teachers with discipline issues, talking to parents about how to better help their child at home. Love the job.
Other Types Of Counsel
College and career readiness vs emotional support counselor.
Making sure students are taking the courses they need to take, ensuring they are on track for graduation. Help them with the college application process.
Being there for the kids when they have questions about life or when things go wrong and they could use someone to talk to.
Lot of the replies here are sour but they need to understand it's a tough job, I don't envy the counselors at my school it's tough to develop that 1 on 1 relationship with 600 kids ( 5 counselors).
Not me but one of my friends was a school social worker. Her job consists of mediating students who were not getting along, providing support to students that were struggling either academically /socially/ personally, and facilitating group bonding activities from students.
I'm currently in a masters program to become a school counselor. Your role in a school really depends on what age level you're working with. Elementary school counselors do much more classroom lessons where they can reach more students. High school counselors do more scheduling and college/career readiness. Across all grade levels though, school counselors are there to support students with academic or socioemotional issues.
There are many factors that hinder the effectiveness of a school counselor. Many schools give them additional tasks that are not in their job description like coordinating state standardized tests and having them discipline students which can destroy rapport. The American School Counseling Association (ASCA) recommends that the student to counselor ratio be 250:1 in order for the counselor to be most effective. Some schools have over 600 kids for one school counselor!
In short, school counselors are there to support students in any way that they can, but their job is not easy. If more people understood their role, maybe we could get more school counselors in schools.
I'm a little late to this thread, but my mom is a high school counselor and boy does she work. She spends a lot of her time at the end of each semester creating schedules for her student's next semester. She works at one of the smaller schools in our county, but she still has to create roughly 220 schedules a semester. She also spends a lot of time meeting with students having personal issues and doing what she can to help. She recently received a grant to train a therapy dog that she takes to school with her daily to help students who are having meltdowns in her office.
Aside from that, she runs a number of clubs such as NHS and for a while, the jazz band and teaches a "good beginnings" class. Good beginnings is a program that helps pregnant high school girls prepare for motherhood and provides them with a support community so they don't have to face the difficulties of teen pregnancy alone.
She helps plan and run a majority of the school's ceremonies and created a character development program that won her a few awards. She also runs a Facebook page that posts scholarship opportunities for high school seniors.
Outside of school, she will often take responsibility for struggling students. The amount of extra "siblings" she's brought home over the years to help out is incredible. We even fostered one of her students for six months when she fell on hard times.
I've been out of the house for a while now, so there are definitely things I'm missing here, but what she does for her students is incredible. School counselors often get a bad rap which is really quite sad. I've never met anyone who works as hard as my mom does for her students, so if you get the chance, thank you counselors for all the hard work they put in. Chances are, they don't hear it enough.
Many, Many Hats
School counselor here! I work mostly on the college counseling side now with eleventh and twelfth graders but am trained as a school counselor. (I'm a little biased but,) school counselors are the superheroes of a school setting in many cases.
They take on many tasks both within and tangential to their job description, including: individual meetings with students to review and work on their academic goals, problem-solving skills, and social-emotional challenges; group facilitation for small groups that tackle common areas for improvement, including study skills, friendship, family problems, grief, anger management, etc; (on the high school side) many school counselors are responsible for all the logistical and non-logistical facilitation of the college process (applications, financial aid assistance, family meetings, college selection, post-secondary planning for students not attending college, emotional preparation for the college transition, etc.); advocating for students in IEP meetings, family meetings, meetings with DCF, etc; liaising with teachers and administrators to develop and implement academic plans for students struggling with their coursework; and many, many more responsibilities that make up their typical day-to-day.
School counselors also often serve students in crisis, but ideally if a school's social-emotional supports are functioning perfectly, this would be a small component of a school counselor's role. We are trained to serve students in a short-term capacity, and for students who are suffering severe mental health challenges or are facing social-emotional issues that require long-term care, we may refer out.
On top of all these things, school counselors are often tasked with many non-counseling related responsibilities, including organizing and proctoring standardized tests, lunch and transitional duty, afterschool coaching or program leadership, organizing field trips and college visits as well as in-school events, classroom teaching, literacy work, etc.
The reason I think they are superheroes is because they (attempt, at least) to execute all this work through a strengths-based lens that really lifts up the stories and voices of all of the young people with whom they work. We are so privileged to be able to observe first-hand the incredible growth that happens in schools, and if we do our job right, we are often people students remember throughout their post-secondary years and beyond.
A Bad Example
I hope they've improved since I was in school. Mine's response to me having a hard time in school due to my dad nearly dying from complications of a brain tumor was, "You walk around at school like you've got the weight of the world on your shoulders and it's bringing other people down. Why don't you should join a sport to get your mind off it? You'd lose weight as a bonus."
Some great answers here already but from your typical American school....
Elementary school (if the school district is progressive enough to have counselors):
You are essentially an assistant principal, special education teacher, counselor, social worker, or any hat you need to wear that day. Running lunch groups, coordinating 504 plans, IEP's, preparing kids for middle school, working on social interactions, and really anything to fill in the gaps for what these children are not getting at home.
Middle school: 504's, IEP's, behavior interventions, peer mediations, planning for high school, college and career planning/exploration. Severe mental health concerns e.g. Cutting, depression, anxiety. Again, wearing whatever hat you need to that day.
High school (in most school districts): planning high school schedules, college planning, paperwork...... And more paperwork. Some schools are starting to take the scheduling aspect out of the job, but most are heavy in the standard guidance counselor job description.
School counselors are one of the most underutilized parts of a school and teachers/administraters misunderstand what they should be using them for.
The Dirty Details
As a school counselor I had a student come in crying because she was pregnant. When asked about birth control she said, "but I took the pill before AND after." Major facepalm, but hey, job security.....
4th grader and mom comes in for a meeting because he was below grade level in math. About 6 people siting in the meeting. Look at mom during the meeting to ask her a question, freaking chinchilla climbs out from her cleavage.
9th grade boy sculpted a dog out of his poop and brought it to my office as a gift. Sh-tty gift.
Kid squeezed superglue in another kids ear while he was asleep at his desk. The victim had bullied the kid earlier in the year, payback was earned.
Just a few of the stories. Being a school counselor is fun, because you never know what will happen at any moment. But counselors can not talk about the issues with other people so it is sometimes lonely if you are the only counselor in a school.
We had counselors in my high school, but I honestly didn't know they were also there to help you with your mental/emotional welfare until the end of my senior year when they had us rate them and their services. I thought they only processed transcripts and dealt with academic issues like setting you up for summer school if you failed a class or something.
Currently have one year left for my Masters of Ed psych degree (school counseling), but during our master program we also have to work in a practicum and an internship in the schools. As a school counselor, our main responsibilities are as follows:
Guidance Curriculum - This is where the counselors go around to each class and present a lesson plan to every student. Usually ranges from College and Career Readiness, bullying, navigating middle school, etc.
Individual Planning - Each student meets with their counselor over the course of the school year to discuss where they are academically and to plan ahead for the future
Responsive services - This is one of the more common responsibilities of a counselor. Here we are dealing with the everyday occurrences within the school (bullying, disruptive students, fights, etc.) essentially, we are there to put out fires.
System support - This is where we attending training seminars and PBIS meetings (positive behavioral intervention and support) to learn how we can better serve our teachers and our students.
The grade level you work with does determine what I would be doing more however. For example, at the high school level, my responsibilities consist more of making sure kids are on track for graduation and prepared for college where as in the middle school, we are more focused on getting kids on a good academic path.
I'm a high school counselor. Definitely a big focus on making sure that students are on track for graduation requirements, but you need a counseling degree for the job, so it's nice to be able to use therapeutic skills when students need help getting through the day. People want to hear about the f-cked up stories, and they happen, but it doesn't define my job very well.
When I Actually Get To....
School counselor here!! When I actually get to be a school counselor it's great. I get to talk to students about a wide variety of issues they're having, help them resolve problems between themselves and with other adults and get to do class lessons on social and emotional issues. I also run small groups and do some school-wide PBIS things. I work at a very understaffed elementary school though so my ability to do my job is hindered by the many additional tasks I was assigned to do that take my time away from the students. I'm making the move to high school next year but will miss being an elementary counselor.
I'm a school social worker in California. Went to grad school for my MSW with an emphasis in schools my last year of the program. Had to get a pupil personnel credential as well. My job is great, I love working with the population and each day is somewhat different. Some of my duties include individual and group counseling, leading class workshops and assemblies, parent workshops, linkages to resources for families in need. I also respond to crises and conduct threat assessments and make CPS reports on occasion. I work with admin and teachers and suggest specific behavior interventions that might work best with specific students. I also track infraction and behavior data throughout the year in order to follow trends in student behavior and see how to make things better at our school. So many different jobs in one which makes it so enjoyable.
So Many Side Jobs
Current senior and a counselors office aide. The main job of our counselors is academic planning, with a few frequent fliers that come in to talk to their counselor almost every day, always unscheduled. At our school you have to fill out a slip to see your counselor and it's eventually processed when they have time, and some kids just don't get this. They get really s****y with our lovely receptionist and my fellow office aides, so we have to push back another kid's appointment to appease them. It's really hard and our counselors do so much, especially recently since we had the death of some seniors and a sophomore, they've been working full steam ahead. They deal with a lot of kids with emotional problems as frequent fliers (anger issues, depression, classroom anxiety, etc.) but there's also a large majority who just like to come in for bullshit reasons. All in all it's not as high risk or glamorous as Hollywood would have you believe. These people work their ass off for you and you don't even know!! Show them thanks!!
A Netherlands View
I work as a student counselour in the Netherlands on a highschool for middleclass education. (Age 12-17) My work mainly consist of guiding student who struggle with behavioral problems, psychologic problems, drug abuse, child protection in some cases and basically annything you can think of that would be classified as a serious problem.
My office is situated as a time-out zone for children that get removed from the classroom by the teacher. They get a note written by the teacher that tells me the reason of their removal and they get work for the remainding time of the class in question. I usually talk about what happened and offer advice and issue the consequiences of their actions as forms of detention or extra assignments wich i then communicate to the classes' mentor. I also register the students who were absent without a proper reason during classes and call them out on why they were absent.
Lastly i just walk around the school in my downtime to speak to the students in a informal manner to ask them how they are doing at home or talk about their hobbys and such. Just making small talk to get a proper bond with the children so they know where to go when they are facing tougher times. As a counselour i really feel like you should make rounds outside of your office to get yourself know to the students.
I love my job and seeing my students develope is amazing in such a small amount of time. Even though the job can be pretty rough at times.
Every Day A New Day
I am a school counselor in a low income rural school. I do everything from wash students clothes and provide them with a place to take a shower to sitting with them while they are interviewed by law enforcement and CPS. There is no "average" day for me.
Some days I help groups of students figure out how to get along or how to just co-exist with people they don't like. Basic coping skills that they are missing from home.
Some days I am listening to a student tell me they are suicidal or harming themselves and have to make the calls to parents and other agencies to help them get the services they need. It can be an incredibly stressful and saddening job, but some days you get a win. No matter how small, it reminds you why you are there to begin with.
I'm a school psychologist in the U.S. Depending on the school and district my position can overlap with school counselors. Unfortunately I do not in any significant way (unless I personally pursue it, which I've done on occasion). At least not in my current position. Like another user mentioned, some of us get stuck in a revolving door of assessment.
I primarily do psycho-educational assessments, which consists of cognitive/intelligence tests, academic achievement tests, and depending on the concerns social-emotinal tests. All these tests are based off of national norms, and require a lot of training to administer according to standards. I do more than just test for these assessments, like observations and interviews. It's sort of like being a detective! I investigate to find the source of a student's struggles. Typically I don't start testing students until special education is considered. Which is another topic for another day.
In all honesty, I am just finishing up my internship year. The schools I work with didn't really get the memo though, so I was treated as if I was fully credentialed. It is surprisingly hard to find school psyscholigists in the U.S. If anyone is curious about more, or how to become a school psych, drop me a PM. I would love to see more people interested in the field!