Gender issues, rising inequity, and immigration concerns are challenges school counselors with their students.
In 2017, the American School Counselors Association Assistant Director Eric Sparks identified what he considers the top challenges faced by school counselors. Many of the challenges are hot-button issues that reflect major societal change with effects that go way beyond the hallowed halls of school.
Other challenges posed by Sparks are more unique to school communities.
College readiness and vocational guidance
Sparks called this “planning.” One of the biggest jobs a school counselor has is helping a child plan for his or her future, whether that means continuing on to higher education, joining the military or entering the workforce. Ideally, a school counselor would be involved with this process since the student entered school, providing guidance and study skills and intervening during times of poor or declining school performance. Some school counselors even accompany students on college visits and walk them through the application process.
“There’s a lot of pressure on students these days to perform well, whether that be academically or through activities and sports,” Sparks points out, “and we’re more aware as a society about these kinds of issues. In the past, that might have been dismissed. But today, we have a lot more awareness of things like stress, depression, anxiety, bipolar diagnoses. So, school counselors need to know how to connect students with resources that can help them.”
School counselors are not tasked with diagnosing mental illnesses. Some are specially certified to test for and diagnose learning disabilities.
Bullying has always been a problem in schools—just watch any teen movie from any era. But one of the factors that has put bullying in so many headlines lately is the ubiquitous nature of social media. Yes, the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks spilled out of the halls of the high school and into the streets, but these days a student’s tormentors can follow him home and continue to bully him in his bedroom via social media.
Some school counselors monitor social media to varying degrees. As a preventative measure, counselors are also involved with media education and lessons about how to use social media responsibly.
Trauma and Crisis
A study from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network found that one in every four children attending school has been exposed to a traumatic event outside of school that can affect learning and/or behavior. Individuals can experience trauma at home or in the family that effects their academics, social lives, and emotional development. Often students are not forthcoming when they are suffering from trauma. School counselors help to identify students in crisis and what kind of support and resources that they need.
When a natural disaster, school emergency and/or death of a student or faculty member occurs, an entire community of students and faculty may experience trauma together. Typically, when a school experiences a trauma, a team of crisis counselors lead the community through recovery. The school counselor plays an important role in leading the team.
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Pursuing a school counseling degree
School counselors must complete a master’s degree, at minimum, in school counseling, psychology, or social work and obtain relevant state certification to gain employment. They are required to renew their license every three to five years.
According to the ASCA, school counselors are in high demand. The organization suggests that schools should have a student-to-counselor ratio of 250:1 and currently that ratio is 471:1.
The University of West Alabama’s online master’s in school counseling enables you to pursue a career as a school counselor. Develop the skills and knowledge needed to help youth in educational environments, all in a convenient, fully online format from one of Alabama’s oldest and most prestigious universities.