Talk About it Tuesday: An Interview with An Elementary School Counselor

For this week’s Talk About It Tuesday feature we have a great Q&A with an elementary school guidance counselor from the Maryland area named Lynn*. Lynn received her master’s degree in Psychology from Johns Hopkins University and has worked in the school system for more than a decade. In this post, Lynn eloquently describes what it’s like to work as an educator. Read on for her insightful take on the issues and concerns that today’s families are facing.

Did you always know you wanted to work with children or was there a particular experience that leads you to this type of work?

Yes, in many ways I knew this was my calling. Growing up, I always liked babysitting and working with small children. When I would take career interest inventories, helping jobs were always at the top of my list. I debated on going into school psychology or school counseling for quite some time. Overall, I am happy I chose this career path because it allows me to work at one school and form relationships with my students. School psychologists, typically have several schools and primarily participate in team and complete testing. I also enjoy teaching classroom guidance lessons and visiting every classroom on a consistent basis.

Of all the lessons you have learned over the years, what is one of the most important lessons that working with children has taught you?

Wow, so many lessons I have learned from my students. One of the biggest “ah huh” moments would be to never underestimate your presence and relationship with a student. On many occasions, I have worked with students facing tremendous challenges: homelessness, abusive parents, crippling poverty, death of a loved one, nasty divorce and mental illness. What these students have taught me is invaluable because I have learned I cannot use my “magic wand” to make these problems disappear, but I can be there through their pain and provide emotional support. In my career, the power of the relationship is real; children have transformed for the better simply because an adult cared they were at school today or turned in a homework assignment. Another lesson learned is that children are resilient. Many times adults make a bigger deal over how a child may or may not be affected by an event or situation. It is important to be cognizant of adult’s feelings, attitudes and beliefs when working with children. Often, children model behavior they see and are looking to a grown-up for how to react to difficult situations.

Are there any particular programs or events that you have instituted in your school?

Over the years I have instituted many programs at my school. Every year, I do a food drive for a local food pantry and always coordinate with local agencies for the holidays.  Lunches Bunches, new student groups and breakfasts clubs are another way I try to connect with students and infuse basic social skills. In keeping with a giving spirit we have raised money for children with cancer, earthquake victims and various other natural disasters. To help our students become college and career ready, I have also taken 5th graders to visit local colleges.

In less than 6 months, tens of thousands of children across the country will be starting their academic career in kindergarten. What are some ways that you recommend that parents help their child be ready for school?

Most importantly, send your child to school every day and instill in them that education is essential to his/her future. Children thrive on routine and when parents are inconsistent with attendance it sets the stage for the student to have difficulty socially and academically. Secondly, enroll in Pre-k if you are eligible. This early introduction to school is important and helpful for your child to transition to kindergarten. If preschool is not feasible, utilize the public library because they have many free, educational programs.

Do you feel the emphasis on standardized testing puts too much pressure on students and teachers? Why? Why not?

I think tests serve an important purpose in education to help teachers see gaps in students’ learning and to plan instruction. Personally, there are too many tests for students in school. There are many other ways to assess learning in our schools. Most of these tests are now on the computer which causes many disruptions to the school day. Teachers are pulled, more substitutes are needed, and schedules are rearranged. This often causes more anxiety then the test itself.

Describe a typical school counseling day

The funny thing about school counseling, is nothing is “typical”. On any given day, I might teach several guidance lessons, run small social skills groups, conduct individual counseling sessions, consult with teachers, attend IEP meetings, de-escalate a student in a crisis, meeting with a parent, find housing for a newly homeless family, support our schools’ PBIS program by having rewards with students, Lunch Bunches and so many more duties I can’t list!

Are you concerned that today’s youth are currently facing a mental health crisis? What are some of the symptoms of mental health issues in children?

Sometimes I feel our world is so ‘instantaneous” with everything that children are having a harder time filtering out the good and bad. For example, news happens all the time and many times bad news is out before it is fact checked. Students hear adults discussing current issues and then begin to get upset, when a few hours later a story is recounted. Another big problem I see is the lack of social skills. With children playing video games, using electronics etc…Children are getting less practice on basic skills such as having a conversation, playing cooperative games at recess or how to deal with conflict. Along with struggling socially, our education system is focusing more on small, group instruction so students who lack group work skills or the ability to work independently are having difficulty completing assignments.

When parents call me to talk about concerns they have with their child, I always preface it by saying, “is this a change from normal?” If so, “how long has this been going on?” Often times, it is a developmental task and will pass (part of growing up), but if the behavior has persisted for a few months, it might be something that needs a closer look. Particularly with children, depression can look different than adults. Sometimes a child will become aggressive with depression rather than appearing sad. Additionally, if there are concerns that a child’s eating, sleeping and daily activities have changed, and this might be another indicator something isn’t right.

If money was no object, how would you invest in the current school systems (i.e. Infrastructure, personnel, etc.)?

I absolutely would invest in more quality educators in the classroom. Definitely, there is a need for administrators and specialists in a content area, but if every teacher had another teacher or teacher’s assistant in their classroom, much more could be accomplished on a daily basis.

*Please note: The name of the subject in this article has been changed for privacy reasons. However, all other details are factual. 


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