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Rachel Furlow
Teacher, 12 years- Tallahassee, FL

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Transform the school, transform society.

Let guidance counselors guide

Why do some children from poverty or stressed backgrounds struggle so hard in school and what can be done to help them succeed in life? These are the two questions that I have spent most of my adult life trying to answer and they are not idle questions. Every so-called “F” school in this country is anchored in communities of economic stress and I know that the school building itself is not the problem, because good teaching could go on in a gravel pit, if need be. What is it inside that child that needs attending to that is holding him or her back? I have written a lot about the importance of educational experiences or lack thereof from birth to three, which is indeed half of the picture. I have discovered that as the child gets older, the other half of the picture comes into focus, and it, too, needs serious attention.

Why in the world should a teenager who is struggling in school keep up the struggle? From the young adult’s point of view, it is “What am I doing here? This stuff is getting really hard and I’m not very good at it and school is getting very unpleasant and nobody cares about me anyway, so what is the point?” That is a very, very good question and one that goes through the heads of millions of teenagers daily. Many of them who can’t answer that question for themselves simply give up and drop out one way or another and are then lost in the same economic storm that has taken down their community – poverty, joblessness and hopelessness.

Everything that I say from here on in is a pitch for real, true-to-their-title guidance counselors (plural) in every middle and high school in America. The importance of the guidance counselor that is actually allowed to do his job cannot be overstated. I will start with the counseling part first. Every child thinking about dropping out has not only no faith in himself but, more importantly, no faith that any adult, anywhere, has faith in him either. There has got to be somebody in the school that really cares about the emotional well-being of the child, regardless of academic status, and the child needs to be connected emotionally to that adult. Sometimes that is all that a child needs. A drowning child doesn’t need a hundred life preservers to survive, but they do need one and it has got to be there for them. Children coming from stressed backgrounds may have a lot of not-so-visible needs to fill and there better be somebody at that school with the care and time to fill them.  For many children a guidance counselor is not a frill.

Secondly is the actual guidance part, which involves career advice, which goes back to “What am I doing here?” A struggling teenager needs to have a fixed reason in his head to keep up the struggle.  The guidance counselor is the bridge between the school world and the reason for being in school -  to get the ability to do well in the work world. The problem is that the view of the work world is garbage to teenagers who come from economically depressed communities. “Let’s see, mom works all day at the gas station and then all night at the Walmart and then cries herself to sleep. Boy, I can’t wait for that.” The guidance counselor has to be the window to a bigger, better, outside world that the child doesn’t see. They have to be able to show that the math and science classes actually lead somewhere. And, this is the important part, they have to go out and make real connections with real jobs that entail a good education and connect them with the school, so that this “Try hard in school to get a good job” thing becomes a reality. The problem is, this all takes a great deal of time and effort, and right now, the time for the guidance counselor is simply not there.

The modern guidance counselor is expected to do everything except guide and counsel. They have become test administrators and paper pushers, with little time for any real, human connection with their children.  My suggestion is to free them up, give them resources and let them do their job. This is drop-out prevention on steroids, and not only the children, but their families and society in general will benefit greatly from it.

 

I don't understand this Goth deal. Some of the white kids are a tough nut to crack. They just want to be dead. They even come to school dressed for the funeral.
Professor Johnson Unhinged - Section on Teaching

7 Minute Lecture Series

 

01. Introduction
(7 minute Lectures)

02. How to Create a Dropout
(Positive Behavior Shaping)

03. The Phone Call
(Reward Effort)