As I mentioned in my first post, I don’t want to use this blog just to post ideas. I also want to use it to document my experiences and to reflect on my self-growth as I become a school counselor. I think it’s amazing how much I’ve changed and developed throughout my two years in grad school- I am much more aware of social issues and I feel a personal responsibility to advocate for certain issues and populations, even if its by doing something as simple as correcting someone when they misuse the word “illegal” to describe someone who is undocumented.
During the past two semesters, I was recruited for an awesome experience in Baltimore City. Baltimore City Public Schools does not hire a school counselor for every school (I think the secondary schools have school counselors but most of the primary schools do not- I can get into this problem in another post some other time!) A professor of mine, Dr. Jones, teamed up with a teacher at a dual-language, Pre-K – 8th grade school in Baltimore City to advocate for our profession and demonstrate the need for school counselors in every school. Dr. Jones recruited several of my classmates and me to come to this school a few times each semester to provide career “coaching” for the 7th and 8th grade students.
The first time I went, I didn’t really know what to expect and I couldn’t help but think the worse- were these middle school-aged kids going to be rude? Did they care about their futures? Were they going to take this seriously? Will the fact that I am an entirely different demographic than these students be an issue? Will they take advantage of the fact that I have never done this before? How am I even going to do this?! I WAS SHOCKED. These kids were extremely bright, wanted our help, were so patient and kind, and genuinely appreciated us working with them.
The first thing my classmates and I learned was that in Baltimore City, students apply to attend high schools (private and public high schools). As someone who always lived in Anne Arundel County where our public schools are set up in a feeder system based on where you reside, this process was new to me. I thought, Ok, these students will just tell us what high schools they want to apply to and I’ll help a couple of them fill out the application, and it’ll be easy- wrong. I went home and researched most of the Baltimore high schools to become familiar with the names, their locations, the academics they offer, etc. I have to admit, it was pretty overwhelming! It was also a bit awkward every time I was working with a student who would ask about the process or about a school and I’d have to explain that I am learning just like they are. Then we would whip out the IPad and research the answers together.
We moved on to talking about careers. It was clear that these students didn’t know what career possibilities are out there. They pretty much only knew of a handful of careers: doctor, athlete, lawyer, and teacher. Even more, they didn’t understand those careers completely. I worked with one student who wanted to be a doctor because she liked the idea of putting together medicines (FYI that isn’t what a doctor does.) We had plenty of work to do. We used trait and factor theories to match each student’s interests/skills/values to career clusters that highlight those. Another student I worked with was set on being a crime scene investigator because she watches CSI and thought the job looked cool. After casual conversation with this student, I learned that she struggled with science but loved to write and read about history. Once we researched the career and she learned about the crime scene investigator career, she realized that was not at all what she wanted to do and then we explored some career clusters better suited for her. At first I struggled with the fear of crushing someone’s dreams but all of the students were excited and eager to explore all of the career clusters and careers that they had never heard of.
When my classmates and I met with the 7th graders, we decided that we wanted to find out each student’s Holland Code and then organize the class into groups based on their codes so we could more easily focus on certain career clusters with each group- seems like a good idea, right? We picked a Holland Code test from the internet with face validity and administered it to the class- PROBLEM! These students lived in inner-city Baltimore and came from low-income families. Our test was not even close to being culturally appropriate. The test contained questions such as, “Do you enjoy using a lawn mower to cut the grass?” but there was a good chance that the kids did not even have a lawn mower. We ended up scratching that entire idea because we didn’t get accurate results from the test. Lesson learned: Keep in mind what your population’s demographic is!
After each student picked one or two career clusters that suited them, we helped them create career timelines. Shame on me for even thinking this, but I was expecting a handful of students to voice opinions against going to college or share doubts about being able to go to college. To my surprise, every single student expressed interest in going to college- not a single student said they didn’t want to or that they couldn’t, which was awesome! The timelines began in their 7th or 8th grade year and indicated every step they should take until they reached the desired career. Specifically, the timelines indicated the desired high school, classes they should take, clubs they should be involved in, the type of post-secondary training they will need, any certifications or licensures they will have to obtain and when, and the years indicating when each of these things may happen. The students LOVED doing this and were really into doing the research! We had students create timelines to be an occupational therapist, a computer programmer, and a public relations specialist- all of which are great careers and careers they didn’t know about previously.
It is true that for many of these students, their school is a huge source of support in their college/career development. It was disappointing to learn that for a handful of the students we worked with, this was the first time they realistically talked about their futures. These students are extremely lucky to have the teacher they have, who really cares about their future and is helping them the best she can, but students elsewhere do not have this privilege. I may have taught these students about college and careers but they taught me a thing or two about the school counselor I
want need to be, and for that I’m grateful.