So You Are a New School Counselor...Here's What to Expect!
By TaRael Kee
My name is TaRael Kee and I recently completed my tenth year as a school counselor and now I am an assistant principal. I have to be honest with you. My first two years as a school counselor set the stage for my growth as an educator because of the many challenges that I faced in those first two years. Growth was not easy at all and at times it was very painful. I made a few mistakes and they really caused me to doubt myself. I wondered if I was good enough to serve students. Over my career, I have never lost sight of my struggle. That is why you, the new school counselors, are on my mind right now. You are full of ideas, passion, and potential but it will most likely take you some time to bring all of those bright ideas to fruition.
I am sure you are well aware that our students need you but you have to be realistic with yourself. The best version of yourself might realistically be a person that you will need to become. You have so much to learn about school procedures, community resources, college entrance requirements, and more. There is no realistic way of pouring all of that information into you in a short amount of time. So you are going to experience growing pains. You will have bad days and you will make mistakes. You will also have accomplishments along the way. A small victory for you might be life-altering for a child. So remember, the best school counselor that is inside of you will never materialize without time, realistic expectations, self-care, professional development, and healthy boundaries.
There is so much to learn as a new school counselor. You need to learn school building procedures like the course guide, where to get a parking permit, the daily school schedule, and more. Course guides at many schools across the state are extensive. Many courses have prerequisites. You may have a caseload of over four hundred students. The combination of having a high caseload and wide course offering can make scheduling courses quite tedious. As a new school counselor, you may be without a sound routine and experience. It might take you a little longer than other school counselors to fix schedules. That is okay! Managing your student schedules will get easier with time, mistakes, understanding, and established routines.
You will also need to learn about postsecondary admissions standards in addition to your school’s procedures. Colleges have so many different requirements for admissions and scholarships. Unfortunately, it will take you time to better understand these requirements. Eventually, you will have a general idea of what to expect from most public four-year institutions (4 yrs English, 3-4 yrs Math, 3 yrs of Social Studies, 3 yrs of Science, and potentially 2 years of Foreign Language). Students will also have questions about merit-based scholarships and every school has different requirements for scholarships. Fortunately, there are resources available t assist you. Utilize digital resources like university/community college/trade school websites, BigFuture.org, and/or Naviance (if your school has it) when you are uncertain about school requirements. Sometimes you may even have to call the admissions office to get an answer. It may take you longer to figure out answers than your more experienced colleagues but you have the opportunity for a very unique experience. New counselors have the opportunity to learn more about the admissions process with students. I remember feeling like I was on the same team as my students as we navigated the admissions and merit-based scholarship process. I would not be who I am today without those formative experiences.
Mistakes, Uncertainty & Anxiety
There are so many opportunities for you to make mistakes and you should not shy away from them. Yes, I said it, you are going to make mistakes and that is okay. Give yourself grace. You cannot and will not grow as a school counselor without making mistakes. The people that know me best all know that I hate when I make mistakes. I truly take each mistake to heart because I do not like letting people down. I want to get better but improvement would not be possible with those subtle, painful, little reminders that you can improve your practices. Many mistakes are painful but fortunately, they are often not all that difficult to repair. So, just know that you can and will bounce back but you may have to do a little extra work to fix the problem.
I am also sure that I am not the only person that experiences impostor syndrome. There will be times when you feel like you are not good enough to do the job or less competent than other school counselors. Oftentimes those feelings are not shared amongst your colleagues. Most often your self-doubts only exist in your mind. I realized over the years that sometimes something as simple as a positive thought can pull you out of the downward spiral of self-doubt. You were picked to serve in a highly competitive role that people do not often leave. There are great things about you and people probably really like you. Tell yourself that and remember the most important thing that you can do as a school counselor is care about the students that you serve.
Your Counseling Skills Work
Remember those counseling skills that you learned in school? Well, guess what, they work! All of the skills you learned in school such as active listening, reflecting, paraphrasing, etc well these skills work in the school setting. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a few new school counselors and interns. The easiest thing for new school counselors to do is often counseling! New school counselors and interns are usually capable of jumping right into sessions with students using solution-focused and CBT approaches. The only hang-ups are usually procedural issues.
Your counseling skills will help you build relationships with students and your level of concern for students will help you learn all of those school procedures. School procedures vary from school to school and even sometimes from principal to principal. Some procedural issues that you may encounter are things like what steps to follow if a student is having suicidal ideations, who to call if a student is in a lockout situation, or even when to call or who should call DCFS. Initially, all of these scenarios are scary because you do not want to mess up and negatively impact students. Remember it is okay to ask a colleague (even if you do not work in the same school) if you are unsure if you completed the necessary steps.
You Are Only Going to Get Better
Listen, you are only going to get better with time. So please be patient with yourself as you navigate fear, anxiety, mistakes, uncertainty, and more. Remember you are going through the process of transitioning from being a graduate student to becoming a professional school counselor. Transitions are almost always difficult. Think about some of the other transitions that you may have experienced before such a becoming a high school/college student, a parent, or a spouse. Did you have all of the answers right away? Probably not. This will not be any different.
These tough times will not last! If you stick with it then one day you too will be a veteran school counselor! Please remember your mistakes, how you repaired the situation and how you healed yourself. Also, please help the school counselors that will come after you. Remind them to give themselves grace too and that mistakes are only natural. Remember to be gentle with them while they are experiencing growing pains. If you are so inclined maybe even one day you should write an article for ISCA to inform and uplift new school counselors!