Two friends sit in their high school library, contemplating the amount of homework due the next day. To one, the large amount of work seems insurmountable. But the other, who recently bought two illegal “study drug” tablets of Adderall, a stimulant medication usually prescribed for learning disorders, tells the friend not to worry. They will have no problems finishing the work.
As the student pulls out the Adderall, a teacher walks by and catches him. Both boys are suspended for bringing drugs to school, endangering the time and effort they have spent working toward college. Why would these students feel the need to abuse drugs for high grades?
Peer pressure for high school students today goes beyond turning down marijuana or beer at a party, stretching into the field of academics. Pressure to succeed is a tall order for some students, leading them to poor choices like taking advantage of prescription medications, cheating, and forgoing the development of good study habits.
This pressure to succeed academically, beyond all costs - common at schools across the country - is only one example of the type of daily issues school counselors address in today’s high schools.
How do School Counselors Help?
How would a school counselor address the problem of two students illegally obtaining – and using – the drug? Because many students receive Adderall illegally from friends or dealers, they are often unaware of the dangers surrounding its usage, such as dependency, and even death for those with heart issues. In this situation, the school counselor would sit and talk with the students about the side effects of using drugs, but also dig deeper into the reason the students took the drugs – the pressure to succeed.
Knowing that students have the ability to succeed without the help of drugs, counselors instill this knowledge in the students themselves. Counselors also foster thoughts of positive self-esteem, challenging negative thinking, such as “There's too much work to finish myself,” and showing students how to receive homework and time management. Counselors also stress the legal issues surrounding the buying and using of such drugs.
But peer pressure is only one of the challenges high schoolers face. Besides discipline issues, these professionals provide input on all key issues and factors affecting high school students, including:
- Dealing with bullies
- Conflict resolution
- Time management
- College planning
- Goal setting
The Counselor’s Day
A day for a school counselor starts early. School counselors must develop personal relationships with students in order to earn their trust and respect, so counselors should be among the first faculty members to greet students each morning. By earning respect and trust, school counselors ensure that students take their guidance and counseling seriously.
At the beginning of each semester, the school counselor assists students with their initial course schedule, and meets with students throughout their academic careers to ensure they're performing well academically. Counselors meet with students to establish personal and future academic goals, such as career and college aspirations, extracurricular interests, and personal growth, like developing problem-solving skills.
If a student is a high school freshman, for example, and seems lost as to possible classes, hobbies, or extracurricular activities to participate in, the counselor engages the student in a discussion on the student's interests, favorite academic subjects, and favorite pastimes. Through this discussion, the school counselor shapes those interests into academic goals. For instance, a student’s love for animals and an interest in science directs the counselor to suggest science classes and activities involving work with animals. At some point, if the student maintains these interests throughout high school, the counselor discusses a possible career of working with animals.
As counselors meet with students throughout the year, they also help students develop time management abilities. Students often juggle academic work in addition to part-time jobs, extracurricular activities like sports, and social functions. For some students, school is the least of their worries, but school counselors work with students to prioritize activities, developing a “to do” list with a student. This prioritized list often has overarching goals, such as getting into a prestigious college, or it has short-term goals, like achieving a “B” in history class.
Development of time management skills is crucial for students wishing to continue to higher education after high school. Counselors work directly with students to prepare for college, sifting through paperwork and transcripts in order to provide students clear and concise information about colleges or universities. This includes recommending courses to prepare for college, assisting the student with college applications, assisting the student with financial aid forms, and helping the student request letters of recommendations from teachers.
Students that have difficulty managing time sometimes have underlying problems affecting their academic ability, such as problems at home or issues with friends. In order to effectively work with the student to develop academic goals, counselors must understand how the student's personal life affects his or her time management skills.
At times, the stress and pressure from life and school are too much for a student to bear alone, and they come to school counselors with personal problems that need solutions. In addition to academic needs, counselors must also provide support for the emotional needs of students as they struggle to deal with changing bodies, raging hormones, conflicts with friends and family, and peer pressure related to drugs and alcohol.
Because the teenage years are filled with self-discovery and exploration, counselors often use “nondirective counseling” when helping students through problems. Nondirective counseling explores a student's views and concerns, and helps students come to their own conclusions about an issue, giving them confidence in their problem-solving abilities. Building student motivation and confidence allows students to become better organized, and encourages them to tackle their own problems.
In this form of counseling, the counselor minimizes making decisions for the student, instead listening to the student and providing clarification for problems. For example, a student experiencing a death in the family that affects schoolwork might visit with a counselor. Instead of charting a direct path with a clear outcome, the counselor simply listens to the student, empathizes, and suggests ways to cope with the loss.
Managing the paperwork
Unfortunately, one of the main components of counseling is also sorting through and analyzing the large amount of paperwork that comes from working with students. Transcripts, results of counseling sessions, college applications, student grades, and test results must be well organized and documented.
By keeping this information well documented, counselors meet state requirements, and are able to better analyze the data. This analysis involves working with teachers to adjust lesson plans, identifying and closing gaps in student learning. For example, if test and grade results show a group of students struggling behind the rest of the class, the counselor identifies that group and works with teachers to develop an after-school study period.
There is no single organizational model that works across the board for school counselors, but emerging technologies have prompted most counselors to switch to an electronic organizational system. Because of this, counselors must be technically savvy, able to organize student information electronically, navigate the online college application process, and analyze data stored in spreadsheets.
How do I Become a School Counselor?
Becoming a school counselor requires a master's degree in counseling or psychology, as well as school counseling state licensure. If you’re interested in counseling teenagers or becoming a school psychologist, contact schools offering degree programs in psychology or counseling.