In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!
Counseling in an elementary school is a very desirable setting for any counselor who desires to work with children. Elementary school counselors will provide both personal and academic counseling to students in need, generally from the kindergarten through third-grade levels (this varies depending on state and region). School counselors make up the largest segment of professional counselors, numbering 275,800 (Bureau of Labor Statistics [BOLS], 2010–2012). Unfortunately, elementary school counselors seem to be a small percentage of school counselors due to shrinking budgets.
Issues to Understand
Though hard figures are difficult to come by, elementary school counselors comprise the smallest percentage of school counselors overall. Elementary school counselors, like the majority of school counselors, generally work 9 to 10 months in a year and have 2 to 3 months off. Because of this and the fact that school counselors are the highest paid segment of the profession (BOLS, 2010–2012), and that school budgets have shrunk, employment in schools is competitive for counselors. Counseling in an elementary school will be more like counseling in a middle school and very different from that in a high school. Most elementary school counselors work in public schools, though a number of them are employed in parochial school settings. Elementary school counselors must enjoy a variety of activities, including individual and group counseling; multidisciplinary committees; conferencing with teachers, administrators, and parents; and advocating for special needs children. Elementary school counselors must also understand that school is not a treatment center and thus they will be working in an environment where counseling is likely to be considered an ancillary function to education and teaching. The other note said the boy was home from his first semester at college. There had been five rough years before he graduated last June, but college was great and his note said thanks for helping him make it through. School counselors have the opportunity to influence young lives in very positive ways. It is a hard job, challenging, and often frustrating, but it is good work . . . everyday.
Best Aspects of the Job
Elementary school counselors I have trained and been around often cite assisting in the educational and social development of young children as one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. They are also likely to enjoy working in an educational setting compared with clinical setting. In this setting, counselors are unlikely to diagnose the children and will instead focus on meeting children’s educational, social, and developmental needs. Many elementary school counselors will enjoy the variety of responsibilities they are required to perform, though this also requires them to be very organized.
Challenging Aspects of the Job
Some of the most challenging aspects of the job include mandated reporting issue of child maltreatment and neglect. Elementary school counselors must also be aware of playground issues such as bullying and cruelty to animals. Another factor cited by virtually all the school counselors I have helped train revolves around the fact that school administrators sometimes see the school counselor as a “quasiadministrator,” where counseling is a low priority. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA, 2002) has developed a national model for school counseling to combat this tendency and to assert a lower student- to-school counselor ratio. The ASCA has also advocated for hiring more elementary school counselors, though this remains very much a work-in-process. The ASCA (2002) also recommends a 250:1 student-to-counselor ratio, though the national average is 457:1 (ASCA, 2008– 2009). Urban schools likely have the highest student-to- counselor ratio due to budgets and overcrowding of schools.
Occupational Outlook and Salary
The BOLS (2010–2012) reports the occupational outlook for school counselors at a healthy 14% through 2018. However, job growth for elementary school counselors is likely much less than this reported figure. Because of scarcity of jobs, many elementary school counselors may start their careers counseling in parochial schools, which have a much lower student-to-counselor ratio but also pay substantially less salary. The BOLS reports that the school counselor’s current median salary is $57,800, which is the highest for all counseling occupations. Elementary school counselors would likely be somewhere close to this figure.