Just like teachers, school counselors play a significant role in the students’ lives. With their help students are able to work through difficult times, choose courses to be taken after school finishes, and plan for their futures. Though the occupation of a school counselor has tremendous rewards, its highly challenging too. For high school students the school counselors are often the main source of support.School counselors are ideally meant for academically helping out the students.
In order to help students in taking a post secondary path or planning a career, their duty is to administer and interpret aptitude tests and career interests. They even conduct mock interview sessions; help with resume writing and updating students about the various career sites. In large schools there are additional support staff to the school counselors who assist them in carrying out various tasks like keeping records, administering tests etc.However, due to general misunderstanding of the profile of counselors and budget constraints, the counselors today perform tasks, which are not conventionally meant for them. To quote Ruhl, “‘A counselor’s main role is to be an advocate for students…
unfortunately, fiscal constraints sometimes limit the amount of advocacy work that can be done,’ says Judy Hingle, director of professional development for the National Association for College Admission Counseling.” (para.4) Hence they are engaged in tasks like substitute teaching, calculating grade point averages, bus duty etc. by the school authorities.
This takes up a substantial amount of their time, which means they get to spend less time on tasks specifically meant for them. Thus not only the quality of their work but also their self-esteem and motivation level gets affected adversely. To discover the motivation for working is one of the main concerns of organizational psychology. Motivation at work comes if the person is engaged in tasks in which he has expertise and qualifications. After joining a school as a counselor, if a person gets to do work not meant for him then though he will work he will not get happiness from what he is doing.If a counselor is unhappy and dissatisfied with his work environment how can he bring a positive change in he school he is working for? Also, it is impossible to give proper career guidance to students if one is not satisfied with one’s own career. Maslow’s theory of motivation – the hierarchy of needs can be discussed in this context.
In the words of Hodson, “His hierarchy of needs represents the Humanist approach to psychology…his approach became highly influential in organizational psychology and management training. Maslow proposed that humans have a basic hierarchy, or ascending scale of needs which could be displayed as a pyramid or triangular structure.” (2001, p. 28-29) At the base of the pyramid is the physiological need. Safety needs, social needs, esteem needs, growth needs and self-actualization needs are next steps in the above-mentioned order. By performing non-essential tasks, the counselors are able to satisfy their physiological (food drink, air, shelter) needs, safety needs and social needs but their esteem (personal achievement, self respect etc.) needs, growth needs and self-actualization needs remain unsatisfied. Thus not only motivation but also, attitude, emotions and stress levels of the counselors get adversely affected.
In such circumstances it is the students who suffer the most.Stress is not only caused by overwork but also by work that is being done forcefully. The school counselors have to devote extra time in tasks, which are not for them.
For e.g. during the exam times they are engaged in activities that is meant for the office staff. Devoting extra time on something which one enjoys doing gives satisfaction of job well done. But overworking on non-essential tasks is stressful for the counselors. Their performance in work gets impaired due to their stress level.
They experience anxiety. Those who do not get successful in adaptive response or are unable to improve their survival potential change their jobs or even leave this profession for some other career. According to Ruhl, “60% of new school counselors leave the field within two years. Those that stay, however, report some of the highest rates of job satisfaction of any field.
” (para. 8)The contrast can be attributed to an individual’s ability of coping with stress as well as working environment and emotional fulfillment from one school to another. The organizational structure and change matters a lot. They change the outlook, dilemmas and dissatisfaction attached to a profession.
If a school counselor manages to get employed in a school that offers very conducive and satisfactory working atmosphere and job profile then he can stay on for really long as he gets emotionally attached to the staff, the students and the school environment. Some schools engage their staff in stress management training programs to teach them the skill of managing their workplace stress. Most of the employers nowadays base their staffing decisions after consulting the psychologist in the interview panel regarding the personality traits like stress management, leadership qualities, team work etc, of the interviewees.
Group discussions are also an essential part of selection process of candidates in organizations in order to gauge these personality traits.Not only academic issues but also social and personal issues hamper the academic growth of the students. Earlier the counselors were supposed to look only at the academic problems and dilemmas of the students but now it is believed that until and unless all the issues troubling a student are resolved he cannot succeed. Hence there has been an enhancement in the job profile of the counselors. To catch potential issues before they turn into major problems, counselors, not only work with students but also with the teachers, administrators and parents.
After observing the problems of the students from all angles the counselors even administer counseling sessions of the students to help them overcome the grief and distress they are experiencing. If another student is troubling the child in school then the counselor even tries to resolve such issues. They also advise the parents and teachers on how to effectively communicate with the children. Thus the counselor is engaged in all spheres of the students’ lives. This multidimensional concept is new and those counselors who are engaged in this kind of work derive immense satisfaction if the student’s overcome their problems or if the teachers and parents seek his help in sorting out issues.However this new multidimensional role of the counselor is also the cause of individual differences between the counselor and the other staff of the school or the parents. Those who are not abreast of the changing role of the counselor feel that he is being too interfering.
If the school management does not understand this then the situation becomes all the more adverse as their unhappiness with the role conflict might even adversely affect the counselor’s performance measurement. Therefore the right path for the counselors is to make the school management aware of the changing roles of the counselors and take their permission in involving other staff and work as a team for the betterment of the students. Since the school authorities are pro development activities of their school, they might understand the change in the work process. Feller (2003, p. 262-71) rightly observed “School reform efforts over the past few decades have created many changes for school counselors. Both anecdotal and empirical evidence suggests that the profession has responded successfully to multiple external forces.” In order to bring the evolving trends in action, schools need regular briefings about what is the latest in the work front.“Counselors are expected to perform roles as varied as the schools within which they work.
Some are advocates for students confronting severe family and social change, while others are saddled with large amounts of “administrivia.” Many confront substance abuse, suicide, and teen pregnancy as regular parts of their day.” (Feller et.al, para. 13) The more the youth of today are getting involved in situations that were unthinkable in yesteryears, the more the job profile of the counselors is undergoing change. This poses great dilemmas for the school counselors at the workplace. Different sources: parents, teachers and school principals have different demands and to satisfy everyone is a tough task.
But in such demanding circumstances if the counselor possesses leadership qualities then he can involve all the sources as a team to deal with the problems of children. In order to enhance their contribution in the realization of the common goal, the counselor should be competent enough to influence others in the right direction. Of late the researchers in the realm of organizational psychology “identify leaders not on the basis of their character, but on the basis of their actions.” (Haslam, 2001, p.59) So in many aspects of children’s growth the counselor can even lead the school principal and teachers.The higher classes students’ are the ones who need the support of the counselors the most but ironically they are the ones who are not able to find substantial time for counseling activities in their tight schedules.
The nature of counseling in schools gets widely influenced by certain institutional parameters. Many schools have increasingly started engaging different kinds of vocational activities in the final year of school. Apart from studies the students are constantly busy in such activities.
Not only this they are in deep anxiety regarding their exams, the fast approaching deadlines of their various projects, hectic socializing and surfing net that they hardly get sufficient time to interact with the counselors. The long vacations are the culprits too. Even if the vacations are shortened the entire time of the students gets devoted to extra classes or project work. During performance measurement of the counselors the blame is directed towards them without understanding the factors that are responsible for his low performance. All this affects the counselor’s social identity in the organization he is working for. There are situations of conflict in the workplace too. But proper conflict management on the part of the counselors would help the school authorities; parents and students understand the counselor’s situation well.
To conclude in the words of Rana (2000, p. 180) “student counselors often have to deal with students with very serious psychological problems… ‘Working at the coal face’ as many student counselors do, requires particular qualities which are, in the main, slowly developed through a combination of lengthy training and practice.” By keeping oneself abreast of his duties and responsibilities and the norms of the organization he is working for, a counselor can enhance his potential and make his work- life stress-free and satisfying.