"I discovered how much I enjoyed that generation and how, for me, they represent a symbol of hope. I appreciated the fact that they allowed me in during those special moments, and that I had earned the right to grieve with them. I figured out that really was my passion."
Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do?
I’m Callie Robertson, and I am a high school counselor within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System in North Carolina. About 6 years ago the professional title changed from guidance counselor to school counselor to better fit the role that we play within the school. We counsel and guide students through social, emotional, and personal issues that they may encounter throughout high school, as well as assist students with the academic and career decisions they will make after graduation.
What does a typical day look like for a high school counselor?
I get to work around 6:30 am and start the workday at my desk, checking my email and voicemail. I will then go out in the lobby area and chat with students until 7:15 am, when school starts. I answer any questions that students have about any forms or papers and on occasion address a student that may be arriving to school upset. I give counsel on a range of topics from relationship issues to academic concerns. When I am back in my office, I will go through a list of students that I need to call for academic or personal reasons. I will pull students, depending on what class they are in, throughout the day to chat with them.
There are 7 counselors in the building and I have 378 students on my caseload. As the year progresses, we look at attendance and grades, and begin to have conversations with students who are 'high-flyers', those that are failing multiple courses. We use an online system to search for the students that need assistance. We also receive emails from teachers, parents, and students wanting to set up appointments. We also have a website that allows students to sign up and set meetings with us.
In the Fall, we hold half-hour meetings with seniors to discuss future plans and to address questions concerning their transcripts or scores. I do career inventories with the 78 seniors on my caseload to see what they are interested in and to help them find out what their skill sets are. For my student - athletes, we look closely to make sure they are NCAA eligible. I also set up 504 - plan renewals at the beginning of the academic year. These are required by the American Disability Act, which assists students with disabilities by allowing them appropriate accommodations in the classroom.
In addition to these student groups, I also work with our homeless population. The McKinney - Vento Homeless Assistance Act was put together for students who are in a home crisis situation. The act ultimately helps them get resources within the school to be successful, despite their situation. I intake about two new students every month and although I can't change their home situation, I can help provide them with many more resources during the school day. And on occasion, I may stand as a translator for a Spanish-speaking student that may be acquiring additional resources, like a new computer.
Our school is a very academically driven environment with very supportive and caring parents who want their children to succeed. If a student has been absent a lot or is failing a course, we work to figure out how we can support them and how we can get them more time with a teacher if needed. I agree when people say it takes a village to raise a child.
What are some issues that students come to you about & are you ever surprised by what you see from this age group?
The main issue I see is anxiety, and it is triggered by all sorts of things, whether it's relationships or grades. I try to help them pinpoint what is causing so much anxiety in their life by asking questions and then help to paint a more realistic picture. For example, a high school student may say,”Everything is just awful”, and I will ask, “Is everything awful?" Students don’t need to be a ‘positive patsy’ all the time, but I help them see that because one thing is tough right now, it doesn’t mean everything is terrible. Counseling is like any other job where you have certain days that are overwhelming, and then you have seasons where you feel overwhelmed. I genuinely love high school students. I have a lot of hope in their abilities and where they are going.
What are some misconceptions that people have about your job?
We shoot for about 80 percent of our time to be spent with students, but some days I may only see 1 or 2 students. Sometimes when I say that I am a counselor, their response is,”Oh, so you just talk about feelings along day long?” There are times when we talk about how a student is feeling, but a lot of times we are just discussing their course schedule. Also, we don’t do therapy. I am not a mental health counselor, and although we are trained in strategy and techniques, we do not have the capability to make a diagnosis.
How did you figure out that this was the career for you? How long have you known you wanted to do this?
I decided that I wanted to be a school counselor my senior year of college. I spent my time through college leading Young Life, an organization that mentors and ministers to high school students. During my last year, I decided that I didn’t want to be on staff and I was done working with high school kids. I was going to finish out my time at the high school, but that winter, two of my students were killed in a car accident. I discovered how much I enjoyed that generation and how, for me, they represent a symbol of hope. I appreciated the fact that they allowed me in during those special moments, and that I had earned the right to grieve with them. I figured out that really was my passion.
I knew that I wanted to help people, but I really didn’t know what that would look like as far as a career. I had a professor in college write me a recommendation and he told me, “When it comes to helping people in the U.S., there are two major needs - education and healthcare.” I was affirmed in my career path when I had other people comment on how passionate I was about high school students.
what certification & degree do you have?
I earned a Master’s degree in School Counseling from UNC - Chapel Hill, and I have a professional counseling license. The program is a 14-month fast track program that includes course work and field experience. I have a K- 12 license so I am certified to work at an elementary or middle school, and because I have my master’s, I could work at the college level. UNC is one of the only schools that offers a fast- track program, with most offering a two year program. Because of the intensity of the program, I was well prepared for the role I have now.
What advice would you give someone who was interested in a school counseling career?
Consider which population you enjoy the most. People in my program came from all different backgrounds- some were teachers, some were psychology majors, some were from the business world. My master’s program was made up of a diverse group so don't discount the idea of changing careers just because you have been an accountant for 5 years. If you love helping people, there is nothing wrong with wanting to change careers to be able to pour into a younger generation.
Some days involve more paper work than I would like to do, but at the same time school counseling is a great job for someone who is task- oriented because you always have a task. At times, I appreciate the clear to-do list of items. But I am excited to learn and grow more in my own style of counseling and how I approach students. I would love to stay on the high school level for a while. If I were to make a change, I would probably go to the college level or maybe elementary, after I have children one day. Counseling offers the flexibility to advise different age groups, which is great.