428 Counselors v. class sizes? Wrong question.


Tom Garrett 3 years, 3 months ago

The question, "Counselors versus class sizes," while so often raised these days is simply not a valid one. The reason it is not valid is simple; the solution to the real problem is not.

The question should be, "Clerical staff versus class sizes."


Easy. Ask any counselor on the planet what he or she thinks of the job and the answer will be — every single time! — "It's a good job, but I never get to counsel kids."

Mind you, that is not my idea; that is the assessment coming right out of the mouths of the counselors. I have heard that statement at least 500 times, and maybe even more often that that.

So what do counselors actually do? Back when a very large high school of over 2,500 students might possibly have one counselor, they used to actually counsel kids — once in a while — but they spent the vast majority of their time scheduling kids and classes.

Things are different now. Now they spend a large portion of their time processing special ed paperwork or being involved in the standardized testing now required, getting involved in some indirect way in increasing student test grades, doing some scheduling, or in doing other work that could be handled by an ordinary clerk — at a far lower salary.

Listen folks, I am not talking about something I have not seen with my own eyes. I worked for years in a junior high with a thousand kids and the recommended 250 to 1 ratio of kids to counselors. We had five people in there at a cost of a quarter million dollars a year. I knew exactly how many times some counselor actually counselled someone in the sense that you and I mean "counselling," and I can tell you that for each of those four people (one was the "counselors' secretary") you could count those times on the fingers of one hand.

Let's call a spade a spade.

You can't answer a question unless you know what the actual question is.

To show you what mean, I'll ask John about it.

How about it, John? Ever seen a counselor who actually spent his or her time counselling?


John Lemon 3 years, 3 months ago

Tom, Let me preface my thoughts by saying that I have been "outside" of the day-to-day operations for 14 years now and things have changed. There are more impositions by the Feds and the states , and each imposition seems to require more paperwork. When I worked at a High School I had 4 Counselors for 1200 students. My Asst. Principal and I developed the Master Schedules so Counselor(s) did not loose time at that job. There were tasks other than face-to-face sessions with students such as Community Outreach programs, Awards programs, Informational meetings for community members, etc., that did reduce time with students. However, the majority of time was directed at counseling students about courses of study, scholarship programs, testing programs such as PSAT and SAT, reviews of Seniors qualifications for graduation, various College/University applications and personal problems of students. I never heard a Counselor complain about a lack of time for student counseling because of clerical duties. I did hear about how scarce and valuable time was for a good reason : when a student has an issue or problem that is presented to a Counselor, it usually takes a half-hour at a minimum. A problem with another student or a problem with home life can not be "discussed" while watching the clock ! Also, dealing with career options or university choices or personal tragedy are serious issues that take expertise beyond that held by most clerks. A clerk could deal with some credit-counting and other "objective" tasks but some responsibilities are too sensitive or too critical or too "legal" (such as Child Abuse) to be done by people who are not highly trained and certified by the state. Bottom line: what the Counselor is assigned to do is determined by the school or District. PS- In my opinion a school must have a good balance of courses and support to maximize the potential of students. A wide view about education calls for Counseling, Art, Music, and those other services that some call "peripheral" in order to really educate a student.


Tom Garrett 3 years, 3 months ago


The reason you never heard counselors complain about not spending his or her time counseling is because they know full well that if they hadn't been doing all those things that did not call for teacher certificate and a degree they would have been pointing out that they could be replaced for a third what they are paid. But you should hear how they talk when they are talking to their peers. It's a whole different ball game. The high school I taught at in Texas, one of the finest in the state had four counselors (and 2,800 kids), and one by one each one of them unloaded on me, and not just once. And in Mesa? It was all I ever heard.

"...the majority of time was directed at counseling students about courses of study, scholarship programs, testing programs such as PSAT and SAT, reviews of Seniors qualifications for graduation, various College/University applications and personal problems of students."

Exactly the point. We do not need to spend over a quarter million a year on fluff. If we replaced two of those counselors with teachers and the other two with clerks.

I thought over very carefully and realized that my single voice, saying what counselors have said to me about their jobs, would not — and perhaps even should not — be the bottom line. So I have done my homework. I've rounded up some data on what it costs us for counselors who don't counsel (though they would love to), comments from the press on how counselors are actually used, and comments from actual school counselors around the nation.

I'll put it in a second post, and will do my level best to keep it short even though I have about two tons of data.


Tell you what. I'll put the numbers and the articles here to save room in the second post.

Median salary for a school counselor: $53,380 (that's $25.67 an hour).

Number of counselors: 281,400

Total cost: over $15 billion dollars each year.

U.S. News and World Report Article: High School Guidance Counselors Underutilized

"Counselors are tasked with clerical duties, stealing their focus from student achievement, experts say."

"School counselors can be a vital piece of the college-readiness puzzle for high school students, but many counselors are bogged down with tasks that don't allow them to put their skills to work."

""[In] our district, we are typically given every fundraiser, every party committee … any need that there is, counselors are given it,' says Kathy Smallwood, a guidance counselor at Mobile County Public Schools in Alabama."

NYT article: A Plea for More School Counselors

"...to improve those dismal statistics: a less harried, better supported school counselor."

"The percentage of students bound for higher education increases when they have access to highly trained school counselors who are not at lunch duty, completing paperwork or counting test booklets."

I have lots more but am cutting this to the bone.


Tom Garrett 3 years, 3 months ago

I went to a site (name: Indeed!) which helps people get positions. What I read broke my heart. I found so many good people with counseling degrees and big school loan payments who could not find jobs that I almost gave up commenting on this string I felt so sorry for them.

The string I read was titled "What else can I do with a School Counseling degree?" Adrienne in Sandwich, Illinois

For any of you who have not worked in a school at all (as I had not) I just want to let you know to be prepared to not counsel that much.

I was moved to 9th grade for the start of my second year and it was a better fit for me. However, I still really felt like a glorified administrative assistant. I scheduled, and scheduled, and scheduled. Less than 5% of my time spent as a school counselor was actually counseling.

tarc817 in Hauppauge, New York

Sounds like you've got some nice experiences under your belt, Adrienne.And you're right about being a GC in a high school - it's all about SATs, college placement, classes, graduation, etc - hardly any counseling.

Giovanna in Clifton Heights, Pennsylvania

Same situation here in PA. I graduated in 2006 with my M.Ed./Secondary School certification. I've had 3 Long-Term Substitute positions and am embarrassed to say that in the past 4 years, I have been on over 20 interviews (mostly LTS positions)...and....NOTHING!

May in Somerville, New Jersey

Thank you all so much for posting your comments. I really appreciate each and everyone of your comments and find a lot of comfort knowing that I am not the only one. I feel all of your pain and I am so sorry for what you're going through. I really thought NJ was the only one and was preparing to pack my bags for another state. But according to you all, boy was I wrong!

Brooke in Hudson Falls, New York

If anyone has any ideas of what I can use this masters for please I am all ears. I am just at my witts end right now. I keep thinking where did I go wrong? How did I not know this?

Shelli in Greenwood, Indiana

I so relate to your stories. I live in Indiana ... The same thing is going on here. Got my master's degree in May 2010. It is soooo frustrating.

Cathy in Moore Haven, Florida

I graduated with my Masters in School Counseling in 2008 after having taught for 26 years. I have been working now for 6 years and the actual counseling time is minimal. My district is paying very well for a secretary/administrative assistant/testing coordinator - everything but counseling. So bottom line - counseling in a public school is in name only. That is what discourages me.


Tom Garrett 3 years, 3 months ago

Sorry, I just had to add another post.

As far I am concerned, you can forget the reason I started this string. It pales to insignificance next to the wrong I accidentally uncovered. All those posts I put up from people talking about what school counselors actually do? They are just the tip of a shameful iceberg. I put up perhaps one tenth of one percent of what I read on that site. The rest is heartbreaking.

The link is:


If you go there you will read posts from people all over the country who say the same thing I say about school counseling, namely that counseling it is not, but the rest of what you will read is far more important. There are I do not know how many people on that site who have graduated with an MeD in School Counseling and cannot find a job. And there were dozens more who are still in school and are shocked and broken hearted to know that the job they have put their heart and soul into not only does not exist, but they are unlikely to find ANY job they could use their degree for. Can you imagine how that would make you feel?

This is a national disgrace! Who is telling all these good people to work hard, go to college, get an undergraduate degree, then a graduate degree, and come out of college with no job, no chance of getting one, and loans they may never be able top pay off?

Go read those posts. Listen to the shock in what those women have to say. They have been betrayed! Forget the original subject of this string. We have people all over this nation who are being lied to about what they can do with their lives.

Go read it!


Pat Randall 3 years, 3 months ago

Tom, Seems as tho all the out of work councilors had bad councilors. I know my son did when he was in HS. He wanted to be a veterinarian so the councilor had him sign up for auto mechanics and a wood working class to begin with as a freshman. I told him forget it, We will figure out what classes you will need to get into a Vet. college. He was not some dummy that only had a dream of being a vet. He could have aced every test. Changed his mind later as to what he wanted to do.


John Lemon 3 years, 3 months ago

Tom, I usually suggested to students that it would benefit them if they checked job openings/projections before seriously considering a career path. It does little good to choose a career path if the personal /academic strengths or job openings do not exist, the pay is lower than needed, the prerequisites can not be met, and so forth. It is good planning. In the case of school Counselors, I suspect that the current cuts in positions have mostly been due to economic factors ( people seem to want to cut Art, Music, Photography, and other "peripheral" classes). Job prospects may well open again when the economic instability is lessened. Just for your information you might want to visit the following : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook and see School Counselors.


Tom Garrett 3 years, 3 months ago

Right, Pat. Those poor women had some bad counseling all right, but it wasn't in high school, it was in college. The counseling degree is a masters degree. Someone sold those poor women and bill of goods. On top of that, look at the titles of those two articles I quoted a bit from: One of them says we need MORE counselors. There were plenty of other articles that said the same thing. Never again in my life will I ever suggest that a counseling position be cut. Yes, it may be true that we could hire a school secretary for half as much, and get two people for one, but those counselors have put their hearts and souls into learning to do something that they felt was important. I'm d----d if I'm going to be part of a system that sets them up and knocks them down. Okay, it'll cost us more money, but the system made a promise and the system is going to have to keep it.

John, it's interesting that you mentioned the Bureau of Labor Statistics Ocupational Outlook Handbook. Your advice is excellent, and that's where I got most of my data, but for a counseling position the OOH is badly flawed. It's also where I learned (by thinking about it) why almost every one of those hundreds of unemployed wannabe counselors said that getting a job was "political." The OOH is good for most jobs, it is dead wrong in its assessment of how many counseling positions are open.

Because of your background you will understand this as soon as you read it. The OOH says that there are 281,400 counseling positions. That's true. It says that a masters degree is required. True. It says that the job outlook is 19% turnover. True. It says that the "employment change" (number of open positions) will be 53,400. True. It says that "Work experience in a related occupation" is "None." NOT TRUE! It says that "on the job training" is "None." NOT TRUE.

What actually happens with the vast number of counseling positions which come open is that some teacher decides that he or she would like to be a counselor; goes to school summers and nights; gets a masters degree in counseling; interviews with six, eight , or ten other candidates; and is a shoo-in for a job in his or her school or district.

I'll bet you've seen that yourself. I certainly have, at least four times that I can think of. And where does that leave the wannabe with the college loans? Out in the cold! And who would you hire? I would hire a known quantity, a teacher I knew, someone who was already part of the system and had proven ability to handle kids.

So in the real world there IS needed 'work experience" and "on the job training."

The result, folks? Wannabe counselors all over the place who say that getting a job is all "politics;" EG: being someone already in the district. Just go click on that link and read it. It will break your heart.


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