There are school districts in our state who have cut counselors from schools. The running joke in these communities is that counselors are people who never settled into a profession, and therefore have to tell others what to do with their lives. It’s funny for a moment, until you realize that a counselor was just murdered on Friday while trying to stop a young man from committing a horrible act.
I’m thankful now that I have an answer when people ask, “What does a counselor do for schools?”
“Why,” I’ll reply with a smarmy swagger, “in some instances they die for their students.”
It’s fascinating. I’ve been watching news for three days and people are referring to teachers, and principals, and counselors as heroes! Interesting indeed. I don’t recall anyone at last year’s school board meetings saying, “How many heroes are we going to lay off this year?” I wonder if anyone will ponder this question this year during school board meetings. How many heroes can we afford to lay off?
Suddenly people in the mental health profession are heroes too. I’m not a card-carrying member of the mental health professional superhero team, but an ongoing theme to their lives (as they explain it to me) is that their caseloads are far too thick, their resources are too few, and competent help is hard to find due to non-competitive wages. I know they feel this way, because I’m a teacher, and I feel the exact same way. The budget for a teacher (hero) at my school is $250 for the year. Busses for field trips come out of that budget.
Maybe this would be a better question: If a tragedy such as this occurred at your child’s school, how many heroes would you like to be present? Or, if an assault rifle wielding sociopath comes through the front or back doors of your school, how many heroes would you like to be present within 2 minutes? Or 1 minute? When you find your answer, realize that we haven’t raised funding for schools for far too long. Realize that we are currently phasing out nurses in our schools, and school counselors might be next. Realize that we are running schools with shoestring budgets. Realize that we had brand-new eager heroes who wanted to teach in your schools this year, but we had to get rid of those brand new heroes because that is how the system currently works. If you, the public of Juneau, want better, you will demand better.
Until the public, as a whole, demands better from its politicians, we can call teachers, counselors, police officers, and firefighters heroes, but the term seems quite disingenuous. Your heroes, across the board, aren’t being paid like heroes, treated like heroes, or respected like heroes. You don’t lay-off heroes. You don’t discourage new heroes from emerging (new heroes who are riddled with student debt, student debt which was required to be a licensed hero.)
If the people who work with and protect your children are heroes, maybe it’s time that they have the budgets of heroes. Maybe it’s time to hire more heroes. Let’s fill our schools with heroes to teach and protect children. Let’s make sure that firefighter heroes and police officer heroes have all of the resources they need to be heroes.
• Berkey is a teacher who lives in Juneau.