Q: I am an elementary school guidance counselor. Last year my district hired a full-time, in-house clinical psychologist. Many of my colleagues have questioned the need for my position. Do you have any thoughts about how I should respond?
A: In many ways you are comparing apples to oranges. Guidance counselors are in the “hope business.” Therapists are in the analysis business. True, the two fields overlap, but while psychologists are trained to remain aloof, most counselors are more directly involved in the learning process. Almost all counselors are former teachers and, as such, understand the classroom fairly well. Few therapists ever were full-time instructors and have a more theoretical approach to instruction. Research clearly demonstrates that in a school environment guidance counselors are far more successful than psychologists. Overall, having both professions in a school is a positive thing. But given a choice, I personally would rather have a good guidance counselor over a therapist in a school setting any day.
Q: My best friend became the school’s principal two years ago. In my opinion the level of discipline and academic achievement has diminished. She now has tenure, and I fear the school will get even worse. Should I convey my thoughts to her?
A: The history of education in America has been to often take excellent teachers and make them poor administrators. A simple analogy is that great athletes rarely make good coaches. What worked for them in their given sport does not easily translate to others. It is very easy to criticize another individual’s performance, but if you truly want to help your school and your friend, it is a far superior position to offer specific ideas to improve the learning environment. All teachers should try to be supportive of their administrative staff and at the same time have good lines of communication. All administrators need to have good listening skills and if something isn’t working, make effective changes. Give your friend more time. Two years is a brief amount of time to acquire all the nuances of running a school.
Q: Maybe you can help solve a wager that my former college roommate and I have. Both of us teach in the same community. I bet the most important school years are the high school years. My old friend feels the middle school years are more significant. We decided your vote will determine who wins our gentleman’s wager.
A: In my humble opinion it is actually the first years of school that carry the most importance. Your district’s kindergarten and first grade teachers probably have the hardest and most important task in the student’s development. A strong foundation in learning makes all later instruction much easier just as a shaky foundation makes every education who is to follow’s job much harder. Despite my opinion, however, teachers at all levels of education can have a very significant impact on their students to the point that they can be life changing for them. So my simple advice is to shake hands and consider it a tie because all educators despite grade level do the most important job in our society.
If you would like to write to Gary for advice, please email firstname.lastname@example.org