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Let ME Tell You How I Feel About “That Kid”

Really, let me tell you how I feel about all those kids, or better yet, OUR kids.  I recently read the article in the Washington Post, Teacher to Parents: About THAT kid (the one who hits, disrupts and influences YOUR kid).  And then I read it 3 more times.

I sincerely appreciate the writer’s concern for her students, her confidentiality and for the explanations of the individual difficulties each student has, but I can’t shake what strikes me as I read it—that the discipline problems are equated to these students with social, emotional and environmental challenges and that these are the reasons they are that kid.   That’s my disagreement about the article, because really, I just want to tell you a little more.  And it’s good news.

First, I want us to be careful about always calling that kid, well, that kid.  As an educator for 20 years, I shudder thinking what any one of my students would think if they read this and thought, wait, am I that kid?  It’s easy to throw a child in a box and label him.  But that’s a slippery slope.  You see, students trust us.  They really do care about what we think of them.

So those kids really are OUR kids in our school and community.  And it’s our responsibility as educators to take every student under our wing, so we don’t pigeonhole them in any way or lower the bar for them, and help them to avoid spiraling down and down…and down…with an end result in a child succumbing to risky behaviors and destructive decisions.  It’s an oversimplification.  But I’ve seen it happen.

Enter the school counselor.  Counselor’s roles are to work individually with students and support them.  They work to help students, so when they enter the classroom, they can get to work.  They work to help faculty and administration, and oftentimes the greater school community, by assisting them when a student or students need the help they need to be successful in school. Good things are happening.

I talked with Mindy Willard, a school counselor at Sunset Ridge Elementary School in Glendale, Arizona and the 2013 National School Counselor of the Year:

This article really speaks to many counselors because it is our existence in a school. Oftentimes we are saying these words not only to parents but also to teachers or to administrators.  The information that students share with us is confidential and the relationships that we build based on that confidentiality is vital to supporting a child and his or her family. School is not just a place where students come to learn. It is a place where students come to feel safe, to be heard,   to build relationships, and to be cared for. The School Counselor is someone who can provide our children with all of these things.

And to build on Mindy’s words, it’s important to know that many students come to school as their only safe haven.  We need to continue to help students move forward, to find the best strategies to cope, to deal and to learn. The role of the counselor has only become more and more important with the changing world and with social media.  Oftentimes, we are gate keepers and work hard to quietly defend students and see to it they are not thrown in a box.   We think long-term.  We think comprehensively.  We think, how are our programs making a difference and how are we helping students be successful?  And if we don’t have it, we will find it.  We meet with students individually, we run groups, we meet with parents, we let kids cry, we advocate, we guide, we create programs and implement them, we find a way to communicate with faculty about student struggles and offer support so students can be successful.   We work as a team—with our administration, with our assistant principals, with our teachers, deans, staff, parents and community resources. Yes, we have students who carry with them their struggles, but we let them know it’s safe here and that we can get through this,  so when students walk into a room they know they are not that kid. 

Erin O’Malley is the dean of students services and director of counseling at Bishop O’Connell HS in Arlington, VA.

*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) or any Responsibility.org member.*