Reflections on Forty Years in the School Counseling Profession: Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

By Baker, Stanley B. | Professional School Counseling, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Reflections on Forty Years in the School Counseling Profession: Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?


Baker, Stanley B., Professional School Counseling


It was 1960. After 2 years of teaching high school story, I had decided to get a master's degree. My options were social studies education, educational administration, or something else. The first two options were unappealing to me. A third option came to my attention by happenstance. Colleagues at the rural high school in west central Wisconsin where I was teaching had entered school guidance programs, which aroused my curiosity about their new-found field of study. That summer, I entered the office of Tom Soldahl, a doctoral student in the Personnel and Guidance Program at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and asked to be enrolled for two summer sessions. He helped me prepare a schedule for the summer and later taught one of my classes. The first summer was to be an exploratory adventure from which I would determine whether or not the correct decision had been made.

Forty-one years later, I find myself reflecting back on how it all started while attempting to devise a strategy for writing this article. I made the correct decision. That happenstance choice turned out to be the beginning of a career that eventually took turns I could not imagine in 1960.

The school counseling profession was engaged in a boom period at that time, as was the field of education generally. There was excitement about schools and learning (Bruner, 1960; Conant, 1959). The present article focuses on the history of the profession while I lived it for 40 years and my perceptions of the future.

Exciting Times at Mid-Century

The National Defense Education Act of 1958 was the primary impetus for the boom mentioned above. Federal funds were made available for education in general and counselor education in particular in very large amounts for a period of close to 20 years (Baker, 2000). Programs such as the one at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis were taking advantage of the opportunity. The number of school counselors was increasing, partly due to support from federal funds; the number of counselor educators and counselor education programs was proliferating; and the field was awash with scholarly thinking and publishing of theories, models, and research.

I found myself in an enthusiastic environment. There were jobs and ideas. I was introduced to the "guidance point-of-view" by faculty members such as C. Gilbert Wrenn, Willis E. Dugan, W. W. Tennyson, Donald Blocher, and doctoral students such as Tom Soldahl, Joe Hogan, Herb Burks, Sunny Hansen, Jim Winfrey, and Loren Benson.

At the time, I was naively unaware of the national reputations of my faculty members and of the University's counseling and student personnel programs. It was the institution of E. G. Williamson, who had been identified widely as the primary proponent of nondirective counseling. His supposed rival was Carl Rogers, then at the University of Wisconsin, whose viewpoint was labeled nondirective counseling. Rogers' model seemed to be the most influential one in our programs, although the program was deemed to be eclectic (Smith, 1955). I emerged from the program in my individual counseling heavily influenced by Carl Rogers' presentations.

The school guidance education received during the summers of 1960 to 1963 caused me to become a more student-centered teacher. I felt better about my teaching and my teacher-student relations. The small rural school in Spring Valley, Wisconsin, where I taught started a fledging guidance program in the early 1960s. Among a high school faculty of 12, there were four of us preparing to be, or prepared as, school counselors, and one of my colleagues, Ken Ames, took charge of the guidance program in an office that was a remodeled boy's lavatory.

School Counseling Career

In 1963, I accepted a new teaching position in Janesville, a small city in south central Wisconsin that was the home of Parker Pen Company and a Chevrolet Fisher Body assembly plant. …

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