A school counselor is a highly trained professional whose primary roles in the school are to help increase and support academic achievement, provide career planning, and aid students in their personal and social growth. They are also integral to school safety. Probably more than any other position in schools, their role changes dramatically depending on the age group of the students.
Special education: Counselors, since they work primarily with at-risk students, help to identify and refer students who may qualify for special education services. For students who have been identified, counselors provide students guidance and counseling that is specifically identified as necessary within the student’s individualized educational program. Further, counselors can assist teachers with strategies for dealing with special education students whose disability is causing classroom behavior problems.
Elementary School-Elementary school counselors are able to spend the most time of any school counselor directly working with students on their social and emotional skills. Unlike counselors at higher levels, they have few responsibilities for providing career planning and assistance getting into college. Given this, they are able to focus their efforts assisting students who are experiencing difficulty academically, behaviorally, or socially. In doing so, elementary school counselors can observe children in class or on the playground, meet with students individually or in groups, and work with teachers on behavioral or academic plans. Michele Branch, a school counselor who has worked at every educational level, has over ten years experience working in elementary schools in southern California states that she feels, ” Although counseling in the elementary schools is not as prevalent as it is in middle and high schools, it is so necessary. The caliber of issues that I have dealt with at the elementary level alone is staggering. It is essential to provide these young students with the tools necessary to become not only contributing members of society as they get older, but also teach them the skills they will need to be able to problem solve effectively and ultimately become successful as they progress through higher levels of schooling.”
Additionally, school counselors can and often do provide classroom lessons on subjects as diverse as bullying, drug and alcohol prevention, and life skills. Such instruction is not limited to students though. Elementary school counselors are often asked to inservice teachers regarding child abuse reporting and strategies for dealing with behaviorally challenged students.
Middle School-As students grow older, their problems grow larger. By middle school, counselors are working with even more diverse issues such as drug and alcohol use, bullying, sexual activity among students, and other “adult” issues. Additionally, they are now more involved in helping prepare students to transition to high school and begin planning for careers. Finally, middle school counselors are more likely to be a part of the administrative team for the school. When part of the administrative team, counselors are generally responsible for scheduling the students and sometimes for assisting with dealing with discipline problems that arise in the classroom.
High School-In high school, counselors’ time is much more taken up by academic and career planning and post-high school educational planning. While a majority of a guidance counselor’s (a term used to refer to many high school counselors) time is still taken up with academic issues such as scheduling and assistance with earning grades, career planning and college preparation plays a much greater role in their day-to-day work. This includes writing letters of recommendation for students, and scheduling students for classes so that they meet the requirements not only for graduation, but for entry into different types of colleges and specialty schools.
Along with this, counselors are still providing social-emotional support to the teens at their schools. They help students deal with all the emotional upheavals involved in growing up today. Break-ups, parent issues, juggling school and job, peer pressure, and substance abuse all compromise topics that arise and must be addressed.
The responsibilities listed above certainly do not cover the myriad of tasks the counselors perform. In such a small space it is simply not possible to cover all that these valuable school employees accomplish. Suffice it to say that while the exact make-up of the position varies depending on the age group and the dictates of the particular school district, school counselors function to provide academic, social, and career guidance to regular and special education students so that ultimately these students can become succesful.