I had a first in my college counseling career last week when I went on an organized multi-college tour. When you’re the only person in your office—as I was for so long—getting away to see colleges is, at best, a one-day commitment, so the idea of taking an entire week away from the office to see nine college campuses was new to me. It also left me wondering if I could follow the advice I offer my students—to write down your impressions the minute the tour is over, so you don’t confuse the qualities of one campus with the features of another.
It turns out I didn’t have too much to worry about in that department. This tour has been going on for ages and those in charge leave no detail to chance. We were greeted with an itinerary that would have made any logistics expert shed a tear of joy, including a booklet that included a summary of the essential statistics and vital qualities of each school. I was free to add my own notes in the ample notes section in the back, but even if I didn’t, there was no way I was going home with nine schools jumbled in my head.
Overall, the experience taught or reminded me of three things about this profession, all lessons that were timely.
You’ve worked so hard to schedule, prepare, and nudge your high school senior to apply to college on time. You shared that small thrill when they hit “submit” with time to spare, and you thought you were all set.
Until they got the e-mail.
“Our records indicate your application is incomplete. Unless we receive a copy of your high school transcript in the next five days, we will be unable to process your application.”
At this point, you’ve decided this is personal, so even though it’s 7 at night, you pick up the phone and leave The Mother of All Voice Mails for your school counselor.
We hear about all the great teachers in the counseling office. The one who set the times tables to the tune of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” ensuring kids will remember them forever, even if it will take a while to get to eight times nine. Mr. Jones, the history teacher who dressed up like Benjamin Franklin for an entire week and never once broke character. The 10th grade English teacher who finally explained “i after e” in a way that made sense. When you put that much thought into a lesson, it makes for memorable teaching.
Of course, that’s not the only way teachers become memorable. The teacher who said just the right words at just the right time to the bully who had incredible art talent, making the student more comfortable with who they really were, and less of a bully. The teacher who wore the cut-rate perfume a special needs student gave her at Christmas, every time that student had a spelling test—the same perfume she’d wear when attending that student’s graduation from medical school. The teacher who shows up at the Saturday soccer league and cheers loudly for all her students on the sidelines, even though her students are spread throughout both teams, and it’s 40 degrees out.
It just figures that National School Counseling Week starts the day after the Super Bowl. The country gorges on guacamole-covered chicken wings on Sunday, and when America’s most misunderstood group of educators asks for three nacho chips and a high-five on Monday, the country is too tired to party.
In some ways, we don’t mind. The last time we made headlines, most people surveyed felt that school counselors were more of a hindrance than a help in applying to college. Before that, we were the punch line of a car ad — “Your guidance counselor drives a minivan” — or we were known as the washed-up teachers who were given offices close to the principal so he could keep an eye on us.
Spring is a season of mixed emotions for school counselors. As students come in to share the exciting news of college acceptances and generous scholarships, an equal number of families come in with questions that are harder to answer:
“What more were they looking for?”
“Don’t they know this isn’t enough to cover my needs?”
“Why does college cost so much?”
It turns out this last question has a pretty clear answer—it’s complicated, but it’s clear.
“It doesn’t have to cost this much, if you start at a community college and transfer.”