So you finally landed the job out of grad school and are ready to start as a Certified School Counselor. Congrats! It’s a difficult profession but you will make a difference in the lives of children, hooray for you! One thing about starting a new job is that you can feel like there is so much to learn and not enough time. Now that I have a few years into the profession, I find myself saying “I wish I knew this when I first started”. So here is a list of things I wish I knew as a first year Counselor to hopefully help you.
#1 Be Flexible
Our job can sometimes feel like we are putting out fires all day long, and then other days we are knee-deep in paperwork, and then other days we are being counseling superheroes. I am one of those super organized plan every minute of my day kind of people. This had to change quickly when I became a School Counselor. I try to plan where I can but I also allow room for flexibility. For example, if I have counseling classroom lessons in the morning, I will try to leave my afternoon open to address the concerns that came up while I was away from my office in the classroom. I may have certain things on my to-do list that I need to tackle but I have to accept that I may only get to one or two things on the list depending on what comes up. It’s always the days that I planned out the most that a crisis would happen or the principal would give me a task that was time-sensitive.
#2 Embrace the many hats (roles) you will wear
When I was in grad school I had no clue as to how much School Counselors really do. I definitely had no idea how much non-counseling duties they have to do. Non-counseling duties can mean different things depending strongly on your administration. Common ones are testing coordinator, RTI coordinator, ESOL contact, lunch duty, bus/dismissal duty, covering classes, 504 liaison, organizing honor roll assemblies…I could go on. Those are actually all the duties I had myself at one school. I remember feeling very upset that I could not focus more on counseling because of all the roles I was assigned. The most productive thing you can do is try to make the best of it, collect data, and work to slowly remove a role each year. Start small, something you are likely to convince your admin of. Even something small like organizing honor roll assemblies will free up more time for you, then next year try a larger role. When I say make the best of it, I mean try to fit in counseling-related tasks in with those non-counseling roles. At lunch duty, touch base with your frequent flyers (kids who request to see you a lot), touch base with kids who you have spoken to recently, go around and introduce yourself to kids who have never spoken to you. Talk to kids about what you do and where they can reach you. I do the same during morning and dismissal duty. When you are asked to cover a class, if possible do a counseling lesson while you are there.
#3 Seek out a Mentor
Educators need each other, I can not say this enough. Our jobs are not easy, and they often come with little reward. I do not think I could have survived my first year without my go-to friend and mentor. She was my internship supervisor and was (and still is) my greatest asset for counseling knowledge and most importantly someone who I can vent to. Counselors take on a heavy burden of listening and helping others all the time, we need someone to listen to us every once and a while. It helps when it’s someone in our field, that way they can directly relate. If you do not have a mentor, reach out to your district counseling department and ask if they can pair you up with someone.
#4 Use an updated Curriculum
My first office consisted of so many resources that were left by the previous counselor who retired. Many of them were outdated and although I tried to use them, I found that kids were not that engaged. I was on a budget, so I did some searching online and found Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT). This was a total game-changer for me, I could search for exactly the topic I wanted to teach and then spend very little money (or even find free stuff) and print it right then and BAM lesson planned. After a year or so, I started creating my own curriculums and lesson plans on TpT. Click here to visit and follow my store: Heart and Mind Teaching Here are some Small Group Counseling Curriculums to get you started:
#5 Practice self-care
We hear work-life balance and how important it is but we often just say oh easier said than done. However, burnout is real and can not only impact you but also your students. It’s like on an airplane, they say to put the air on yourself first before you help anyone else. This is because you are no good to anyone if you pass out (or in our case get burnt out). Have you ever noticed when you are overwhelmed, overworked, or tired you tend to have less empathy? This is because your basic needs are not being met, so it makes it harder to feel for others who are in need. When you first start as a counselor you will want to do it all and change everything. The smarter way to go about it is to change a few things that are important to you and try to do what you can with the time and resources that you have. Making sure to take care of yourself as well.