“Oh What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been”

For the last fifteen years I’ve prided myself on trying to be the best guidance counselor I could possibly be for my 9 -12 grade students at Azusa High School. For the most part I believe I’ve successfully done just that. I feel pretty good about the job I’ve done. Could I have done it any better? Well sure, there is always room for improvement. In retrospect I could have been more visible on campus, visited more classrooms, attended more sporting events, club meetings, dances or other extra-curricular activities, but there is nothing I can do about that now, besides I wasn’t looking to win any popularity contests or be best buddies with my students. No, my goal was to be a good counselor and provide my kids with the guidance and attention they deserve.

Instead  of playing the popularity game I chose to work at  make myself more accessible to students by way of my office and my open door policy. Students knew that they could come to see me at any time of the day regardless of the reason. I seldom ever turned any student away because I was too busy. And even on the rare occasions when I did have to turn anyone away because I was working on paperwork or something that had to be done immediately, I always made it a point of calling the students back in as soon as I possibly could. In cases where a student was in crisis I immediately dropped what I was doing to work with the student. My kids always come first, they’ve always been my top priority.

It has also always been my practice to treat every student who enters my office with respect. I’ve long believed that “you only get what you give” so I treat them with the same degree of respect that I expect from them. It works quite well. Even as a teacher mutual respect played a big part in my success in the classroom. I was neither the heavy-handed disciplinarian nor the soft-hearted fool, I found instead a point between the two extremes which worked quite well and earned me a reputation of being firm but fair. This same approach transferred well to the counseling office and through the years has allowed me to work closely with my students and not just the good ones.

Contrary to what some teachers and even some counselors believe, students are not, I repeat, not criminals and shouldn’t be treated as such. All they want is someone to listen to them, they just want to be heard. As counselor I’m in a position to give them that. I may not have all the answers to what ails them but I’ve always been a good listener or so I’ve been told, so I can give them that much. I give them my undivided attention. In fact I purposefully set up my office in a rather unconventional manner  so that I can do just that.

Many counselor’s offices are set up in the traditional authoritative layout  where students are seated across the desk from the counselor. I never liked this arrangement. I tried it for about 5 minutes and hated it. I felt like a judge in a courtroom. It was too much of a power position for me. Besides having your desk between you and the student lends itself to too many distractions and isn’t fair to the student. It’s much too easy to keep an eye on your computer or continue reading instead of giving students your full attention. My office is arranged so that when a student or students come in and sit down I must turn away from my desk entirely in order to engage them. There is no temptation to keep writing, sneak peeks at my monitor or click my mouse, no, in my office the student gets my full attention as he/she should. It is these interactions that can make all the difference in a students life.

Now that I am in the final days of my counseling career I’ve found myself thinking back fondly about all the students I’ve had the good fortune of working with. Some were top notch and college bound with a killer family support system, while others were middle-grounders who have  the potential to be successful but lack the support system they need to thrive. Sometimes, because of financial or personal conditions at home,  I’m the only one this group of students have to offer them the encouragement they seek. Then of course there are the knuckleheads, who are actually my favorite group. These are the kids who remind me of myself when I was in high school. These are the, kids who are failing classes and behind in credits, the ones who tell you they don’t care, when you know that deep down they do. They have always been my real challenge.

Although I have always tried to treat my kids equally, this particular group of kids hold a special place in my heart. They are the kids with real baggage, social, emotional or otherwise. I have to admit that these students get a little more from me than the rest but they need it. My hope has always been that the time, attention and advice I offer them will perhaps stick and make a difference if not now then maybe sometime in the future. I’ve seen it. It does happen!

With song in my heart and a smile on my face I can happily say it’s been fun!  When I returned to college back in 83 I would have never dreamed I would have ended up as a teacher let alone a counselor! I’m glad I listened to the advice of two of my professors who believed I’d be a great classroom teacher! I certainly couldn’t see it but I’m glad they did! I have thoroughly enjoyed my 25 year career in the world of academia, particularly the last 15 as a guidance counselor. Working with students all these years has been my passion its been both interesting and fulfilling and has brought me a great deal of personal satisfaction. I will certainly miss all the interaction with my kids, the good, the bad and the ugly!  But as is often said “my work here is done,” and it’s time to be move on down the road…

Just Saying…

JS

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