Welcome to Jan Tkaczyk's world. The director of guidance and her
staff of four tend to the welfare of 700 students at Cape Cod
Regional Technical High School in Harwich, Mass.
Ms. Tkaczyk (pronounced ta-KAY-zick) starts a typical Wednesday
with a 7:15 meeting with the school nurse, dean, and campus security
to discuss students they are concerned about. At 8, she steps into
the special education office to meet with a family making changes to
an education plan. At 9, Tkaczyk talks with two girls jealously
feuding over a boy in their class. She holds a meeting with her
guidance staff at 10, and then squeezes in conferences with three
students. At lunchtime, she answers myriad questions at a table set
up daily in the cafeteria. Her afternoon concludes with office
tasks, returning parent phone calls, writing letters of
recommendation, and giving a prospective student a tour.
The job of a high school guidance counselor is only getting
tougher. Budget deficits have forced districts in cities such as San
Jose, Calif., Greenville S.C.; Yonkers, N.Y.; and Chicago to cut
Many more districts have not been able to hire additional
counselors, or have cut counselors' hours. Caseloads in some states
are staggering: California averages one counselor for 971 students,
the worst ratio in the country.
"When school boards are faced with a decision to cut a counselor
or a teacher, they go with the law. The law says that a teacher has
to be in the classroom," says Joe Dear of the California Commission
on Teacher Credentialing.
Educators worry that, especially in poorer districts, fewer
counselors will mean fewer advocates for students. Counselors often
provide a safety net for kids at risk for behavior problems, poor
grades, or dropping out. And many times they make the crucial
difference for disadvantaged students as they maneuver the maze of
college admissions and scholarship applications.
But the school counselor's role is not well understood,
especially when contrasted with the better-defined jobs of classroom
teacher or school psychologist. Principals, already strapped and
looking for help, may pull in a counselor to administer tests,
substitute teach, take attendance, or do lunchroom or bus duty.
"Everybody else [in a school] has their functions pretty well
defined," says Dr. Dear, "so that leaves the guidance counselor" to
pick up the slack. In the case of clerical work, Dear says,
administrators should realize they're paying counselors too much to
have them push paper.
More than 90 percent of counselors have master's degrees, and
most are also required by their states to have counseling
certification. While their salaries are comparable to teachers',
they rise a bit faster.
Counselors' groups are working to encourage schools to adopt
professional standards. The American School Counselor Association
last month updated its set of standards, which emphasizes the
student-advocate role. …