Let’s say you’re sick of being bullied by another kid in your school — and who wouldn’t be? Or maybe the problem is that you’re about to go to middle school and you’re nervous about it because you’re struggling in math. Perhaps you just found out that your parents are getting divorced, or your dog just died, and you’re so upset that you can’t concentrate on doing your homework. You feel like you need to talk to someone about everything that’s going on. A great person to share your thoughts and feelings with is your school counselor. Add school counselors to the list of people you can turn to when you need help.
They know how to listen and can help kids with life’s challenges. Counselors have special training in how to help kids solve problems, make decisions, and stand up for themselves. That doesn’t mean your counselor will wave a magic wand and the problem will go away. But it does mean he or she will help you cope with it. Coping is an important word to know. Sometimes, kids and grown-ups have difficult problems. Coping means that someone is trying to handle these problems and make things better. Your school counselor is available for you and wants to make your school experience the best it can be.
The counselor’s job is to take your problem seriously and help you find a solution. The counselor also wants to help you learn as much as you can in class, be a contributing member of the school community, and be a positive influence on your environment. If someone was bullying you, for instance, the counselor would talk to you about it and could give you some ideas and strategies on how to deal with the bully. The counselor may also talk to the bully and maybe even to kids who saw what happened. The counselor might talk with your teacher and your parents about the problem as well.
Though this may feel a little uncomfortable, facing the problem and trying to correct it is better than living with a bad situation. Having a counselor’s help means you don’t have to face difficult school problems alone. Your school counselor might visit your class or talk at a school assembly to let you know that he or she is available. Some schools use their website to explain what the counselor does and how to get a counseling appointment. It’s a good idea to know about the school counselor, even if you don’t need any help right now. If you’re unsure how to contact the counselor, ask your teacher, your parent, or one of the people who work in the school office.
If your school has more than one counselor, you might be assigned to a counselor based on what grade you’re in or the first letter of your last name. Generally, counselors meet students in:
• a private meeting
• group meetings with kids who are dealing with the same problem, such as divorce
• classrooms, where the counselor teaches a class on a subject that affects everyone, such as study skills
The most common setting to meet with a counselor is in a private meeting. The meeting could be just you alone, or other students, your teacher, or your parent could be there. Counselors typically have offices where you can sit down and talk. Don’t worry that you need to know exactly what’s bothering you when you talk with the school counselor. You may just be feeling bad or not doing as well in school as you know you can — and that’s OK. The counselor will try to help you figure out what’s going on. When you do, he or she will have ideas for how to make things better.
Sometimes that means finding other people (tutors, learning specialists, or therapists) who can provide the help you need. It’s important to know that if you meet with a guidance counselor, your conversation will be confidential. The counselor isn’t going to go blabbing your personal business around the school. However, there are some cases when a counselor can’t keep it confidential — if the counselor thinks that you or someone else is at risk of being harmed. But even then, the counselor would share that information only with people who need to know. Your appointment with the counselor could happen during the day when classmates might notice you’re gone.
What you choose to say about it is your decision. You can just say you had an appointment and leave it at that. You also can say that visiting the counselor doesn’t mean you’re in trouble. If you’re worried about what to say, tell your counselor. He or she can help you practice what you would say if someone asked about it. If you’d prefer not to miss class time, ask the counselor if you can talk before school, at recess, during lunch, study hall, or after school. Sometimes a counselor might call someone in because they did something like calling a person a name or deliberating breaking something.
But it’s different when you ask to see the counselor because you want help with a problem. You’re not in trouble just because you need some help. In addition to helping kids with problems, guidance counselors help kids learn about:
• study skills
• the dangers of substance abuse
• diversity and respect for others
Counselors at some schools also offer programs for parents and kids or just parents alone. The topic could be helping you graduate to middle school or helping you stay away from drugs and alcohol. A school counselor’s job is different from what it was 50 years ago, when a counselor was chiefly concerned with getting students the classes they needed. Today, counselors are called upon to help students in a broader way. They help students handle almost any problem that could get in the way of learning, guide them to productive futures, and try to create a positive environment for everyone at school. So if you need a counselor’s advice, just ask!