12 Things You Should Never, Ever Say to a School Counselor

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I became inspired to write this post after reading an article from Upworthy entitled, “12 Things You Should Never, Ever Say to Teachers.” As an elementary school counselor, I’ve heard some whacky things from people who don’t really understand what my job is. Some are infuriating, some are laughable, and some are just plain weird. Anyway, here’s my list. I apologize ahead of time for the “snarkiness” in some of my responses. It’s not meant to offend anyone; it’s meant to educate and vent a little, in a humorous way. I hope some of you can relate! 🙂

snarky comments

1. “You’re that mushy feelings lady, right?”

Wrong. There may be some school counselors who are mushy, but I’m not one of them. Yes, I teach about feelings, a lot. This doesn’t make me mushy. This makes me a teacher of social-emotional skills that are crucial for your child’s/student’s development into a healthy, functioning adult.

2. “You’re the guidance counselor.”

No, no, and no. While this title is still widely used, often interchangeably with the title school counselor, it is vastly different. Guidance counselor is outdated and doesn’t encompass all that a professional school counselor is trained and educated to do. My title is SCHOOL COUNSELOR – the counselor of the school. And yes, my title matters.

3. “You don’t teach.”

Yes, I do. As part of my role as school counselor, I provide a comprehensive counseling program. This includes classroom lessons on topics that cover the academic, personal/social, and career needs of ALL students. I create lesson plans, align them with standards, and I follow a curriculum. Yes, I teach.

4. “If you don’t have kids of your own, how can you really understand children?”

I have not birthed my own offspring. I have attended 4 years of college, 2 years of post-graduate schooling, completed a 690+ hour internship/practicum, and participated in full class, small group, and individual supervision, all to do the job that I do. I also attend workshops and read literature to keep abreast of current issues affecting children. I understand children, I work with hundreds of them everyday, and I love it.

5. “A counselor in the elementary school? How much career prep do 5-11 year olds really need?”

Yes, I’m a counselor in an elementary school. Most elementary schools have one. While career exploration, personal interests, and goal-setting are a piece of what I work on with students, I do not meet with each student like a high school counselor would to determine where they want to go to college or what job they’d be good at. School counselors are much, much more than career prep robots.

6. “So, you’re an expert on behavior and emotional problems in children?”

No, I’m not an expert. I’m educated in child development, including behaviors and emotions that fall within the ‘norm’ for children of various ages. But I also know that kids are weird. They develop and learn when they’re ready. Please stop comparing your kid to another and just enjoy yours while they’re still a kid.

7. “I can’t afford to bring my child to some expensive therapist. My kid can see you at school for free.”

I’d be glad to meet with your child to discuss their concerns and create a plan for success at school. I cannot and will not be their individual therapist – this is beyond the scope of my role. If I’m locked away in my office, doing individual therapy with students all day long, I cannot provide what is needed for 100% of students at my school, and that’s not fair. That is not what I was hired to do. If your child needs mental health counseling, let’s find a way to make it happen.

8. “My student/child is having a problem with (fill in the blank). Can you make it go away?”

No. I was not given a magic wand upon graduating with my degree. There is no quick fix for people problems – it’s not like tightening up a loose wire and BAM! You’re good to go. It takes time, energy, and work, perhaps on your part too. I can’t do it without you.

9. “My student/child only does well with you and listens to you because they like you.”

They may like me. In fact, I hope they do. But they may also do well and listen to me because I put in the time to listen to them, meet them where they’re at, and allow them to be what they are – a kid. Every child needs to feel heard. If it’s not by you, it may be me.

10. “How does playing games with kids help them? It’s just playing. They can do that with friends or at home.”

I hope they get to play at school and at home. Playing is the work of childhood. It’s how children learn, explore, try new things, overcome fears, fantasize, etc. I am educated in play therapy techniques that I use with kids when they visit me in my room. I also use games as a way to teach and practice key social skills such as listening, sharing, taking turns, compromising, being patient, being a good sport, and more. Kids love to play, so I capitalize on that and use it to help them.

11. “So, like, what do you actually do all day?”

Each day is different, which is one thing I love about being a school counselor. My day can go from checking in with a youngster to get his day started off well, to mediating a conflict between two on-again, off-again friends, to listening to a parent report that their child is being bullied, to supervising 100+ kids run around and dig on the playground, to teaching a lesson to first graders about personal space bubbles, to playing Jenga with a group of active boys, to consoling a crying student who feels his friend will never forgive him for calling him a jerk, to checking in with teachers about certain struggling kiddos, to attending a SST/IEP/some other kind of meeting to plan for a student’s needs, to recording notes so I can remember what the heck I did all day. Some days are crazy, some are low-key. All school counselors wear many ‘hats’ through out their day.

12. “Your job must be so stressful and sad. I couldn’t do it.”

It can be stressful. It can be sad. I sometimes have to make incredibly difficult decisions. It can also be very rewarding and humbling. To see the success and growth of students is amazing. I’m so thankful that I get to do this work and be a part of something that matters.

 

Is there anything you would add to the list?

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106 thoughts on “12 Things You Should Never, Ever Say to a School Counselor

  1. “Play is a child’s work” Lovely comment, we often forget that.
    Well spoken, we had a wonderful school counselor that helped our oldest daughter in 1st grade, thank God for her. Good writing.

  2. Yes thank you for this! I swear no one gets us. I’ve been in a high school setting the past three years trying my hand at elementary next year during my advanced practicum for my doctorate. I can’t wait to see how different that’ll be. Thank you for venting for us all

  3. love it! 🙂 “If you don’t have kids of your own, how can you really understand children?”…HEHEHE!That is funny!We do have counselors here,in India.But this ain’t the situation here!not most of it!Suppose counselors in U.S.A have a hard time! 😦

  4. I love your dedication. Also your sensible-ness. Kids need levelheaded people to talk to now more than ever. The world is a confusing place. People idolize wealth, status, popularity, sex appeal… Kids face all kinds of weird pressure. Just interacting with someone who has faith, love, and respect as priorities can work wonders for them. It sounds like you’re doing even more than that. Keep up the great work. Our country needs you.

  5. My sister in law once asked the school counsellor to stop the other kids from bullying my niece in the playground. I had to tell her to be reasonable. She told me to butt out cos I wouldn’t understand since I have no children… *aaaargh!!!!*

  6. I have very high regard for everyone that is involved in the education and formation of my daughter. It is never a prerequisite to have your own child in order to fulfil your work with children effectively. It all boils down to the amount of dedication and commitment to your chosen field. Parents should be thankful that they have a partner in you to care for the children the way you do while they’re at school. Kudos to you!

  7. “This makes me a teacher of social-emotional skills that are crucial for your child’s/student’s development into a healthy, functioning adult.”
    I like that a lot. I don’t remember having a lot of interactions with the counselor in elementary school, but I had some good interactions with my middle school counselor. He helped me almost pull off a grand April Fools’ Prank once. He also helped me tremendously in catching up on my academic work and was there to talk to. Unfortunately when I got to high school, the counselors were all about their career prep. I think too often the counselors at the high school level forget that sometimes kids want to go talk to them about personal stuff instead college or scheduling conflicts. I think I was only in there once for scheduling even though they told us at moving up day that we could come to them if we were ever lost, not physically of course. Thank you for doing what you do of teaching the social-emotional skills. I think teachers have that responsibility as well, but if teachers and counselors work together more, especially at the higher grade levels, I think our kids would be a lot healthier and maybe our schools wouldn’t have so much violence in them.

    • As a high school counselor, I resent the comment here and in the main blog post about my job being all about career prep and schedule changes. While we are pushed in this direction by model standards and curriculum outlines, I spend my day dealing with stressed, anxious, depressed, scared, thoughtful young adults who are trying to navigate their way through their world. On a daily basis, I deal with depression, abuse, suicide, bullying, cutting, growing pains, family problems, and mental illness. My students learn to problem solve and cope with the difficulties they face all while trying to find their passion in life. Career prep and college choice is a very small piece of what I do. I’m sorry you had a different experience. You had a guidance counselor. I am a School Counselor.

      • Desiree, the part about counselors being “career prep robots” in my blog post is saying the same that you are – that school counselors are much, much more and do much, much more than that, at ALL levels. Unfortunately, some people still only know the old school version of “guidance counselors.” That’s why I included that in my post!

  8. I work really closely with a school counselor friend of mine, in developing curriculum to get SCs into secondary classrooms and I have to say, #3 is my number one pet peeve. This idea absolutely has to be dismantled if we’re going to get ALL kids to where they need to be! The whole student MUST be supported … not just the academic!

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  11. Nice description of what a counselor is and is not. IMHO counselors can make or break it for a kid. My personal experience years ago with a middle school counselor and issues w my son were not good. As my daughter astutely put it, “all she cares about is keeping him in school for the money”. Quite honestly thats what it was. If it were not for one of his teachers I’m sure I would have had to pull him out.
    It did leave me a jaded to yhe profession I imagine a counselor who had taken the time to listen would have made a world of difference.

  12. Excellent list. I would also add that most of our groups are during lunch and I have had the pleasure of counseling 8, six year olds eating chicken wings.

  13. I am a former school counselor who is now a counselor educator teaching the next generation of school counselors in New York. LOVE this post and this blog– thank you!! I would add to what you wrote that (1) SCHOOL COUNSELORS ARE NOT SCHEDULING PROFESSIONALS. It is not in the best interests of the taxpayers to hire someone with a post-graduate degree to do work that someone with an associate’s degree can do (scheduling). As you have noted most eloquently, a school counselor’s job is multifaceted, complex, and multidirectional, requiring more training and expertise than scheduling does. Academic advising is part of what school counselors do and scheduling can be a part of THAT, but scheduling alone does not encompass the full work of academic advising. (2) COUNSELING STUDENTS IS WITHIN SCHOOL COUNSELOR’S SCOPE OF PRACTICE. Most school counseling programs require more training in talk therapy than most social work programs, so it is NOT in student’s best interests for schools to hire social workers to provide talk therapy for students. IMHO, hiring more school counselors would be the preferred solution. Hiring more school counselors (as opposed to social workers in schools) would follow standards set by the ASCA model and would take advantage of the specialized training provided to professional school counselors. School counseling training, availability/accessibility of school counselors to students, and cost-effectiveness of school counselors as providers are what makes school counselors the preferred providers of short-term counseling to students. While long-term individual therapy may not be possible in school counseling settings, the ASCA model does provide time for direct student services and when enough school counselors are on staff, this can/should include brief, solution-focused counseling for individual students.

  14. Thank you for this article! I am a school counselor for an elementary school, and I hear those kinds of comments on a pretty regular basis. It can be very frustrating. There is one more comment I would like to add to the list. “How do you do it?” I generally respond with “I just do … it.” However, what I really want to say is “Walk a day in my shoes.” To have teachers says you’re not doing or job, or that my job isn’t important. To have administration constantly trying to reevaluate you or change the description of my job because they don’t understand the true nature or value of your job. To have parents talk down to me because I don’t have children of my own. When really they aren’t doing their job at all.
    Yeah, walk a day in my shoes, then we’ll talk.

  15. Yes, yes and yes. Loved it all and you captured our job so well. In my humble opinion, it’s the best job there is but it’s a job that must feed your soul for you to love it, as is true for a classroom teacher. One other comment I get all the time that you sort of alluded to in the career question is “what does an elementary kid new a counselor for? They’re kids- they think they have real problems??” Now this is where I have to bite my tongue a bit. If you think kids have no problems, you don’t really remember what it was like to be a kid. How about instead of floundering through a confusing world where you had to play the game but didn’t know the rules you had someone to be there to lean on? Maybe that was a parent but maybe your parent wasn’t available to you so you had no one. Not all of my students need me in the same way, and that’s good because if all of them had extreme needs, we’d be in big trouble with typical ratios of 1:500+. We are there for the kids, for their families, as a consult for teachers, and for everything in between that falls in the realm of social/emotional growth, academic success, and career exploration in elementary school. This is the age of learning social skills, character education, anger management skill building, establishing a baseline for resilience, study skills, self-esteem, coping with loss for the first time, etc. And all that describes a typical week. But, you know, why would kids need support with that? 😉 Never a dull moment in the world’s best job!

  16. This is spot on! The only thing I would add would be that a large part of my time is spent with children who are experiencing a divorce or parent conflict or a death in their family or a pet. I think people so often forget that children go through significant issues and we are there for them. I love my job!!

  17. It was actually my elementary school counselor that I opened up to about all the abuse that I was going through. She asked me how I wanted to tell my mom and I asked her to do it for me. Her and my mom then took measures to make sure I was safe. She saved my life in a way. And for that I will always be grateful.

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