Kelly Counselor's Conversations

A discussion about life and how school counseling fits into it all

Culture Shock

I ended my maternity leave and began substitute teaching last week for two main reasons- income, and more importantly, to begin to establish roots where I now live. Networking and “who you know” is vital in the education field, and even more so in the school counseling profession, where jobs are not always mandated and often scarce.

I live in a much more rural area now, and it’s not bad, it’s just…different.

I now live in a world where schools don’t always lock their doors. Kids come and go as they please. Everyone knows everyone. And even though many are only half listening to the content, they’ll still likely pass the state tests and earn their “A” growth status. The banners are proudly displayed in the hallways.

I couldn’t help but feel a little (ok, a lot) resentful earlier this week coming to this realization, formally being the counselor in an urban, high-poverty, high English learner demographic. All the complaining about “teaching to the test” but doing it faithfully anyway, and telling our students if they work hard enough, they’ll show growth, led us still to earn an “F” last year. All this on top of how hard our staff works on positive school-wide behavior and classroom management.

As I reflected more, I found myself feeling a little guilty for the resentment. I always like to say, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” It’s not the students’ fault they live in a safer area, are more likely to live in a nuclear family setting, have generally higher incomes, and are Caucasian. We know these factors contribute to school success. And talk all you want about these tests being “standardized”, they are still written by adults having these general characteristics.

I hope this isn’t coming off as a scathing manifesto, because that’s not my intent. I suppose it’s just another rant about how the educational system needs to be changed. It’s also inspiration for me as a school counselor to keep advocating for those lacking the “right” demographics to still find success.

And if I do end up working as a counselor in one of these rural schools someday, I’ll passionately advocate for them too. They’ll still have needs and barriers- not bad ones, just…different.

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Identity Crisis

It’s been a rough week for me emotionally, and not just because I have a baby’s foot lodged under my right rib 24 hours a day. 🙂

Now living 90 minutes away from my hometown, I have one foot in my new town and one foot still in the latter- with my doctor, my loved ones, and my career.

And on my long drives back to my hometown, I’ve realized how unsustainable this is in the long run, especially with a son arriving next month.

I think I was the last to “get the memo” about my own life and realize I have to move on from what I’ve always known. I feel like I’m starting life from scratch in many ways and figuring out what my new identity is- as a mom and as a professional. I hope to remain a school counselor but know this may not happen right away. And man, my identity was REALLY tied up in being one.

Things will figure itself out eventually; I won’t let it not. But the process in the meantime is YUCKY.

At least I know these quotes really show who I am:

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You Never Know…

I’m just going to be honest, with a pending home move in two weeks, a baby on the way in 2 1/2 months, and a potential move of school offices this summer (YUCK!), I’ve got nothing.

But today I received a note from one of my third graders and wanted to share it; this is certainly not to tout my work as a school counselor, but to inspire those in the helping professions that you never know how much you reach someone you help.  With all the chaos of finishing a school year, and the fatigue of pregnancy I’ve felt like I haven’t been doing the quality of work I’ve been accustomed to.

I think this is a reminder to us all that help others that the RELATIONSHIP IS EVERYTHING.  Kids especially just want your time and to know you care.

“Dear Mrs. Johnson,

Thank you very much for helping me and (name withheld) fix our problems with (name withheld).  I appreciate it very much.  Every year I have problems and you help me solve them.  I don’t want you to leave this school someday because you are a great counselor.  Good luck with your new baby.  God gives almost every woman in the world a gift to keep and take care of.  And all those months that you are on break with your baby, enjoy them.  Thank you very much for your advice with my problems.”

Again, this is a THIRD GRADER.  The world in the future is not doomed.

I think I can finish the race strong- school ends Friday for us, and I will sprint to the finish line instead of sitting on the track on the last curve.

Have a great summer!

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Off the Grid

If it feels like I haven’t blogged or been on social media for a while, it because I haven’t.  

Never in my life have I had so much in my personal life going on- we’re expecting our first child in August, and we’re moving an hour and a half way this summer.  Exciting things, but a little much at the same time.

Between the fatigue of pregnancy, combined with the stress of the job, plus numerous house showings, house hunts, and prenatal appointments, there’s just been no time for anything extra.

And I’m done wheenie-whining now.

Stemming from National School Counseling Week, I’ve been saving any positive note from collegues, parents, and students I could and putting them up where I can see them everyday:

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I particularly love the one on top that’s in the form of an I message!

Here’s one I got from a student one day as I was finishing up a guidance lesson.  I assumed it was a note asking for help, on a day I didn’t need more crisis.

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It’s now taped on my laptop.

The take-away: let yourself go “off the grid” for a while.  Let others help and love you.  Don’t be ashamed to remind yourself like I did on a daily basis.  I really don’t have much of a choice right now (especially with my pregnancy brain!), and it’s been a huge area of growth for me, but a much needed one.  

 

 

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T.M.I.

This week, the unimaginable happened in my hometown of Elkhart, Indiana- a gunman walked into one of our local grocery stores and opened fire, killing a store employee and a customer before the police shot and killed him.

All in a matter of about five minutes.

I’m not going to go on with more details, but if you’d like them, read this story here:

http://www.elkharttruth.com/article/20140115/NEWS05/140119954

Since the school I work at is 30 minutes away from Elkhart, I didn’t expect to have to encounter anything first-hand with students the next day.  I was wrong.

I was teaching a guidance lesson at the beginning of the school day, so I missed two of my students come in, one very upset.  That morning, their mother had told them the shooter was her third cousin.  I called her before meeting with the upset student to get the facts.  She told me she did not have a relationship with her cousin, and that her daughters had never met them.

I thanked her for letting me know, ensured we would keep an eye on her girls, and hung up.  But I really wanted to ask her, “why did you even tell them, then!?”

By the time I followed up with the student, she said she was feeling better after briefly talking with her teacher about it.  As a seven year-old, I’m sure developmentally it was shocking and she was unsure on how to handle it.

I found myself wanting to complain (ok, as a friend and colleague says, “weenie whine”) for the rest of the day- what’s a third cousin, anyway!?  Why did I have to deal with this when it happened in a different town?  Again, why did she even bother to tell them!!??

After I got home that night, I found myself reflecting.  It’s really easy to blame this on, for instance, Ruby Payne’s norms of poverty or something related.  But I wondered- would I surely not share this with my kids?  Not being a mother yet, and coming from a family of “T.M.I.ers”, can I ensure something wouldn’t slip out?  How many of us share unnecessary information regularly just because it’s something to talk about?

In talking with this mother, and having a rapport with her, I know she was as good-intentioned as she could be.  And the reality is, these instances are becoming more common.  I suppose I’m not trying to make any particular point except to reflect before judging.

Shooting vigil

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The Big Picture

This past week was College Go! Week in the state of Indiana, which is an annual event promoting post-secondary awareness and exploration for students in grades K-12, a.k.a “early Christmas” for me. 🙂

I wanted to share with you some photos I took of the week to share ideas, which I rarely do, but to also express my pure joy in helping my students begin thinking of their futures so young. It’s a huge paradigm shift to begin talking college before middle school; it is no longer just a “secondary” domain. My intern and I are hoping to receive a grant so we can take more field trips to local campuses (so please cross your fingers!).

I reflected this week on why this such a huge passion of mine in my school counseling program. I think the defining moment was in my first year, when I was having a discussion with a 5th grade class about college. A student raised their hand and said, in all seriousness, “my mom already said I’m not going to college. We can’t afford it.” At ten years old, that was already set in his mind. It was really a humbling experience to know my norms were not the rest of the world’s norms. And it also told me our parents needed to be educated just as our students did!

College afforded me choices in life; just as it did many of you reading. Though the word “college” is heavily emphasized for simplicity’s sake, I make sure to also emphasize that “college” is any type of learning after high school- be that an apprenticeship, trade school, or the military. The schema of solely “going away to a 4-year university” is shifting, and shifting fast.

What message do you send to your students and/or children about college?

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Patience Walk

I am not a patient person. So when I hear, “it will be a patience walk, but it will be worth it!”, or something to that effect, I want to immediately punch the person saying it.

At my school, with a 90% poverty rate, I am often not only counseling our students, but their parents too. Often our families’ lives are fraught with daily chaos, lack of control, and pure survival.

No wonder so many of our kids can’t pass the stinking ISTEP test.

I feel I’ve always done a pretty decent job of being able to “leave work at work”, but this year it’s been much more difficult to not think of kids on the long drive home, and not want to adopt 2,3, or 10 of them.

I realized this week things haven’t changed- I have.

I’m keeping a mindful watch on my own transference issues with my miscarriage this summer; it’s made me want even more to snatch some of the kids away from their circumstances, bring them home, give them a bath, wrap them in a blanket, pop them some popcorn, and have a laugh watching a movie.

I’m also trying very hard to not feel resentment towards the mothers ill-equipped to handle their six or seven children they currently have. I’d just like one, please.

The picture below gives me great strength in times like these. It’s of my great-grandmother and grandfather Irene and Donald when they were very young and very much in love. Their love endured decades after this, too.

Even if my own husband would never be caught by others in a picture looking at me this way, he does. He always says, “as long as we have each other, we’ll always be ok.” And I trust in him and in this.

And I trust in the patience walk, even if I don’t feel like it.

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Time is of the Essence…

I must say, this baby is really affecting a lot of future decisions I’m making at work.

No, I don’t have a child of my own.  I’m not even pregnant.

Many of you reading this know that my husband and I are trying to start a family.  We unfortunately had a miscarriage over the summer but are trying again.

Now, I’m what you call the quintessential planner, but when you have to think of commitments in terms of where you’ll be nine months or more down the road, even the biggest anti-procrastinator can get a little stressed.

Will I be able to coach Girls On the Run this spring?  Will I be able to teach a college course next summer?  Will I be able to attend the ASCA conference in Orlando? Should I apply for that school garden grant?  Should I think decreasing the number of things I’m doing in my program to allot for the fatigue, nausea, and appointments that are to come?

I know the answer is to take life one day at a time and not assume things will happen at any given time.  I’ve learned the hard way that this baby will surely not happen on my time frame.

But success in almost anything requires some preparation.  I’m curious to hear from professionals who have children what they did to prepare in order to balance it all.

 

Keep calm

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Cha-Cha-Cha Changes

It seems like everything is different at school this year.

I’ve welcomed the changes to the schedule, staff, etc. because they’ve for the most part have worked in my favor.  I’m allowed more freedom to do my “school counselor thang” and spend less time with fair-share duties and administrative tasks.

A lot of our teachers, though, are feeling the pressure of a tighter schedule, hectic curriculum pacing, and more loss of creativity.  In two weeks, some are already downright battle weary.  Especially the ones who have given so many years to this great profession.

This week I’ve thought a lot of family members who have told me, “get back to me in 20 or 30 years and tell how you feel about (insert current opinion).”

How will I feel about my life and my vocation in 20 or 30 years?  Will I have a growth mindset like I have now?  I hope so.  But I also know it’s easy in year five to be still riding the wave of current trends, when your own generation is dictating what is mainstream, not just in education but in society.

I’ve read a statistic that said half of all educators quit the profession within five years; I wonder how many that have been in the profession much longer feel like throwing their hands up and calling it a day.  But how many actually do?  Not really any.  The enticement of benefits, retirement and the innate love of children all have to come in play.

I suppose the best way to combat this worry is not to look into the future, but to focus on the present and be mindful of it.  I think that will be the best determination of whether I’ll say either “bring it on!” or “screw it!” 30 years from now.

I’m wishing you all a growth mindset as many of you are returning back to school this month.  Take care and listen to these wise words:

Cookie monster

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First Week Highlights

We have been in school for 6 days now, and already it feels like we never had a break- in the best way possible.

First, the kid quotes:

1st grader, when asked by me one thing he wanted me to know about him: “that I’m lazy!” Um, ok.

Having lunch with a 2nd grader, the construction noise was really loud: “just shut the blinds. My teacher did this and it really works!”

Names for my Mrs. Potato Head by kindergarteners: Mrs. Tomato, Mrs. Pomado, Mrs. I Forgot 🙂

I often like to do a “what was your high/low of the day” discussion with my husband while cooking dinner together, but I can honestly say I had no lows this week, other than being strongly told by a colleague to “just chill”. Does anyone ever notice that this automatically makes you more irate, defeating the purpose? But I had some big highs!

1. I no longer have to monitor attendance, only to meet with parents of concern to make a plan of support.
2. I have a weekly meeting with BOTH my principal and assistant principal together.
3. I got approval to run a some book clubs for struggling readers who also need social/emotional support, helping our school goal to improve ELA scores.

This is bound to be the best year ever. I am wishing the same for you in whatever you do.

“Nothing is impossible- the word itself says ‘I’m possible!'” Audrey Hepburn

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