Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Threatened Species, the High School Counselor

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


As high school counselors, we know that we are overworked and many school counseling positions are on the brink of extinction. However, does our administration, colleagues, parents, and students get it?

Typical Day as a High School Counselor

My workday begins at 7:45 am each day.  As I am walking in the door, I often have two or three students stop me to ask questions.  When I finally make it to my office door, someone is knocking on our main suite door to get in.  Some mornings, we can have 15-20 people stopping by, in a short period of 10 minutes, to pick up a transcript, ask a question, complain about a class, or ask to talk to us because they got in an argument with their parent.  As my morning starts, I am expected to check and answer all my email immediately, answer my phone or return calls promptly, come to an administrator's office to talk to an upset student, and address parent concerns when they walk through the door.  Oh, don't forget the emergency situations!  The suicidal student, the kid who is bullied on the bus, the kid who reveals that he or she was hit by a parent, or a student having a meltdown in the bathroom.  Often by lunch, I have seen a minimum of 15 students and parents, and made 3 classroom calls.
Me, most days as I enter the building
Forget a lunch break!! If I eat lunch at all, I eat while I am talking to a student (I often beg his or her forgiveness) or while I am running to a classroom to grab a student. Throughout the day, I am often working on spreadsheets of student failures, identifying who has not taken a standardized test, talking to a student who needs to take credit recovery in the evening, or encouraging a kid just to come to school.  By the end of the day, I can have up to three meetings (sometimes all at the same time) and then I have another 50 emails to answer before I leave.  Finally, my day ends at 5:00 pm and I pour myself in my car and head to the gym for a little self-care.  After the gym, I head home, grab a bite to eat, talk to my family, and then start making my plans for work the next day.   

Student-to-Counselor Ratio

Educating our stakeholders about our role as the school counselor is very important; however, educating the public about the lack of school counselors is a matter of urgency!! In this post, I would like to share some information with high school counselors about why you should inform your staff, students, and parents about the shortage of high school counselors in our country and why our role is important.


Although ASCA recommends a ratio of 250 students per counselor, student-to-counselors ratios can range from 200-to-1 to 1,016-to-1 in the United States and US territories.

See the Counselor-to-Student Ratio per State Chart.

Yes, budgets are tight and everyone must make sacrifices in the school system.  However, educating everyone from your state legislator to future voters in your high school is critical for our existence. In fact, as school counselors, we often do not market our services and benefits to students very effectively.  In fact, my Student Services Director made a very profound comment at our monthly counselor meeting. She said that all counselors need to do a better job at publicizing our successes every chance we get...I could not agree more with her!

Stop the Bleeding


Why reduce the student to counselor ratio?  The NY Times reported that a lower student-to-counselor ratio:
  • improves the college going culture of a school.
  • improves student success.
  • improves academic achievement.
So, with all the research on the effectiveness of the school counselor, why are school counselor positions being eliminated?  The answer is simply money...at least that is why Philadelphia let go all of its school counselors before the start of the 2013-14 school year.  However, we should never get so comfortable to think that our positions are recession proof.  As my high school's counseling department chair, I am constantly watching our school enrollment for that magic enrollment number so that our school can keep all our counselors.  

What can we do as Professional School Counselors to educate our stakeholders? 

Here are some suggestions:

1.  Change the perception of your school counseling department by educating others about your role.  This can be done through brochures, on your school counselor homepage, in faculty meetings, at parent assemblies, and at school board meetings. Here are some great examples!

2. Celebrate, promote school counseling, and educate your staff about your role during National School Counselor Week.  Check out ideas for your School Counselor Week!  

Toot your horn!

3. Make efforts to communicate with stakeholders (parents, community members, students, etc.) frequently via newsletters, parent meetings, an agency get together, and meet and greets.

4. Work closely with your administration. Download the A Closer Look at the Principal-Counselor Relationship to gain insight on how to improve communication and understanding between you, the counselor, and the principal.

5. Collaborate with other counselors in your state or around the country to get fresh and exciting ideas of how to help students and improve school climate. I love to read other high school counselors' blogs.

6. Hold parent/community educational workshops.

7. Read other high school counselors' blogs, view high school counselor livebinders, attend a school counselor chat, or watch an online counselor webinar. Here are some to check out!

8. Attend and enjoy your state counselor's conference!

9. Attend the ASCA conference in June, 2014!

10. Share articles and information about the plight of the threatened species, "the high school counselor."
NY Times Article on School Counselors
Washington Post Article on the Shortage of School Counselors
MSNBC Article about Life Without School Counselors in Philly

How does your high school counseling staff promote itself?  I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts on this very serious issue!