When people bring up the subject of public schools, the most often discussed topics revolve around academic standardization, teacher accountability and high stakes testing. But one lesser-examined theme is the state of our public school counselors. More pointedly, are we allowing our public school counselors enough time and resources to do everything that the Texas Education Code calls them to do? For those that aren’t familiar, The Texas Education Code states that: A school counselor’s role is to “fully develop students academic, career, personal and social abilities to serve all students.” That’s a hefty job description, even if you’re talking about a self-declared superhero with only a couple of students under their charge. But as those of us who send our children to public schools know, it’s never just a couple of students.
The American School Counselor Association recommends counselor-to-student ratios of 1:250. And since everything is bigger in Texas, we have bumped that expectation up by 100, giving our Texas public schools a ratio of 1 counselor to 350 students. And even that ratio seems manageable when it comes to the reality of what our counselors are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. One San Antonio-area elementary school counselor says that her ratios are double of our state recommendation. “I have 800 students in my school…I’m meeting the basic needs, but the campus is so large and there’s only one of me.” With only 180 days per school year and 800 students, one doesn’t have to perform significant mental gymnastics to see our school counselors are in put in a difficult position when it comes to priorities, especially when they have so many. “I am supposed to provide classroom lessons on various topics such as communication skills, motivation to achieve, decision making, etc. I also do responsive services so I can work with kids that have any social and emotional issues that may be preventing them from being the best student possible. Not to mention administrative duties.”
While these multiple responsibilities and massive ratios are disconcerting for all parents, what do these numbers mean for parents whose children experience mental, behavioral and emotional issues? The counselor we spoke to was quick to assure that despite her heavy workload, she readily puts in extra hours to address kids in need. “Last week a little boy ran away from home and got into the car of a stranger. Thankfully, the gentleman brought him back to school and the student was reunited with his worried parents. But I don’t think I left campus until 6:45PM that evening.” For our counselor, pulling those types of hours is not a unique occurrence. “My scheduled hours are 7:30AM to 4:30PM, but I’m often here much later.”
What can you do as a parent to ensure that your child is getting the attention and guidance they need from an overworked school counselor? The American School Counselor Association recommends meeting/contacting your child’s school counselor at least three times per school year. Additionally, they give a list of ideas of questions to ask, such as “What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses?” in order to make better use of time when you do connect with them. Our counselor reiterates that message and stresses that parent communication is key to success, “Parents should never feel like they shouldn’t contact us. We are here for the well-being of their kids and we want to work together.”