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Controlling the Message

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By Kwok-Sze Wong, Ed.D., Executive Director of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

When I tell people I work with school counselors, they invariably say something like, "My school counselor did nothing for me. He told me not to bother trying to go to college." And yet, they got a college degree. When I ask how they got into college, who coordinated the transcripts, recommendation letters and other actions required from their school, they admit their school counselor did have something to do with it.

School counselors are certified, specially trained educators who help students succeed by removing the barriers to learning. They collaborate with teachers, administrators and parents not just to counsel but also to coordinate, consult, and to create strategies to help students achieve academically, grow personally and socially, and prepare for meaningful lives beyond graduation. Yet they are often the most misunderstood professionals in a school building. Thankfully, many schools recognize school counselors as integral parts of the school team. After all, the mission of school counseling is the mission of the school.

Of course, school counselors aren't the only ones in the education community who suffer from an image problem. I still have horrible memories of my high school chemistry and math analysis teachers. Despite those memories, I don't condemn all math and science teachers, and I may be one of the few who admits that those "horrible" teachers probably helped me more than I know.

Beyond personal perceptions, I'm always struck by the way the media treat educators. When a story reports about someone who's accused of committing a crime, the person's occupation is seldom mentioned or is buried deep in the article. But when the person is an educator, the headlines scream that the perpetrator is a teacher!

I don't know why the media and the general public seem to take such delight in castigating educators, whose sole purpose is to help the children of the people who criticize them.

In his book Schools Cannot Do It Alone, Jamie Vollmer suggests that the education community has lost control of the public discourse about education. To start regaining control, he suggests that all educators should take several actions:

STOP bad-mouthing each other in public. How often have you or a co-worker complained about your principal, superintendent, department chair or another faculty member? It's one thing to do it among ourselves, but when we complain to a neighbor, relative or friend outside the education community, we undermine the entire education system. This behavior among educators is destructive and pervasive. When we criticize each other, we empower others to criticize us.

SHIFT your attention from the negative to the positive. Mr.Vollmer contends that what we focus our attention on grows stronger in our life. If we focus only on what's wrong about our schools, we become more negative about the schools. We dread the beginning of the year and lose hope that anything meaningful can be accomplished. But if we believe that schools can make a difference, then schools will make a difference.

SHARE something positive within your social network. Instead of telling our friends, neighbors and relatives about how bad the education system is, let's tell them how good it is. Share your successes. We probably have dozens each day. If educators don't spread the good word about education, who will?

As we begin another school year, let's all work together to dispel the negative images of all educators once and for all.


Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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