Guidance counselors are (usually full-time) paraprofessionals working in school administration. Their duties nominally revolve around some form of one-on-one interaction with students, and they are typically present at all levels of primary education, though less so in elementary schools, in which the teacher-student relationship is given primary focus.

The typical guidance counselor will be in charge of designing and preparing student schedules; handling some disciplinary issues; advising and assisting students applying to colleges, preparing for jobs, or entering military service; dealing with students with psychological, social, or life issues; formulating individual plans or courses of study for students with special needs; and administering some tests, programs, and special events. In some schools, particularly private and richer public schools, some of these individual tasks may be handled by specifically dedicated counselors. Such schools also usually have a higher counselor:student ratio than the average, which is typically in the range of several hundred students per counselor. This ratio is often considered too high for counselors to comprehensively address the needs of each student in their portfolio, and in fact many only interact with “their” students when a problem or special situation arises. In many schools, efforts are made to assign a specific counselor or counselors to each student, in an attempt to create and maintain a functional background and working relationship between the two.

Nominally, this profession will tend to attract empathetic, people-oriented workers with degrees, training, and experience (ideally, postgraduate) in appropriate fields, strong interpersonal skills and an interest in helping students. Nominally, the same can be said of teachers, but as most students and ex-students can attest, reality is somewhat of a mixed bag in regards to both, and for every account of a warm-hearted, dedicated, competent guidance counselor, you are likely to hear of one or more clueless, disinterested, or actively malicious examples of the species. In fairness, one should keep in mind the heavy workloads, broad and varied duties, and generally low income which characterize the jobs of many guidance counselors, not to mention the demands to please multiple, and sometimes hostile or adversarial constituencies. Once again, richer schools tend to do better in this regard, with their more selective and homogenous student bodies, and possessed of the resources to attract top talent, support larger staffs, maintain high incomes, and otherwise encourage competence and morale.

In short, as a processing, data entry, and administrative job, guidance counseling is a somewhat demanding but doable profession in which most members of the field can perform passably, if nothing else. For anything beyond that, however, quality and competence vary significantly. As always, you get what you pay for.

The high school I attended used to employ a man. He was employed to de-traumatise the children at my school, which is a job he performed brilliantly, and also as a careers advisor, which as far as i can tell is a job he didn't perform at all. But these are not the things I remember him for.

The counselor at my school was a monk. We called him Brother, and he walked around all year, in freezing temperatures and howling winds, wearing a thin, white, cotton robe and sandals. He was slow to anger, quick to laugh, compassionate and willing to listen. He never hurried, he never had something more important to do. Everything about him, from his rosary beads to his beard, was soothing in its simplicity. Sure, he may have used a laptop. He may have had an electronic stapler, but there was always a vibe that he could give these up any time he wanted. He wasn't dependent, an addict like the rest of us. He knew the answers.

He was an inspiration, and now that he's gone the school is that much more normal, that much more modern. It employs a professional de-traumatiser, and careers advice is carried out by a man who also happens to be a major in the army reserve. This means that although we actually get careers advice now, it can be a little narrow. Of all the posters that advertised various vocational pathways, around 50% where for the armed forces, that is, until guerilla forces stole and burned them. The school has a different vibe about it, more harsh, perhaps a little more militant, and oh so much less unique. Less personal. Any school can fill itself with propaganda. Any school can abandon its charges to a 'professional'. But it took my school to employ Jesus.

We miss you Brother.

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