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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

When Things Don't Go As Planned

I'm a goal-setter and planner (Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind). I like to set goals and make plans to achieve them. I've been like this at least since college. Maybe I was before, but I just can't remember it. I started college in 2008 in the midst of the presidential election. I was listening to the media talk about Michelle Obama and how she graduated Cum Lade. Initially, I just wanted to "do the best I could." But when I got on Dean's List after my first semester at Northampton Community College, I decided to set a goal of graduating Cum Lade. When I transferred to Moravian College, I learned about the honors program. If I conducted a research project over the course of a year and defended my project to an honors panel, I could graduate with honors in psychology. I decided that I wanted to add that to my goal. When I graduated Moravian College in December 2012, I graduated Magna Cum Lade with Honors in Psychology. My honors project was on how stress management techniques (i.e., yoga, time management, or both) affect GPA and academic performance. I didn't just meet my goal, I exceeded the expectations I set for myself. While you can't graduate with Latin Honors in Grad School, I managed to graduate with a 3.95 GPA. I was so excited and proud.

While I was at Lehigh, I worked as a Teacher Assistant covering lunch and recess. This job enabled me to use my school counseling skills and to get my homework done and fit my internship hours. I woke up early and stayed up late, often exhausting myself and no doubt making my migraines worse. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make because I love school counseling so much. To me, it just feels like school counseling was what I was always meant to do-- my vocation. Many of the experiences I had growing up lead me to this career. I thought that the hard work I did in graduate school and as a teacher assistant would lead me to a job as a school counselor not long after graduating. I wasn't expecting something to be handed to me. I just assumed that school districts would want to hire someone with high grades in graduate school who is dedicated to and passionate about the profession.

Being a graduate student is hard work, but what I liked about it was that I was in control. When I worked hard and dedicated myself to my studies, I was rewarded with good grades and my degrees. However, getting a school counseling job isn't entirely within my control. If there aren't jobs available, there isn't anything I can do. If HR offices are looking for someone with experience and I don't have the kind of experience or the number of years experience they are looking for, I also might not land the job.

Below are my plans and back-up plans for obtaining a school counseling job. I have been adaptable and flexible. I know that sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do in order to get where you want to be. I'm willing to make those compromises at times as long as it gets me where I want to be: in a school counseling position. Hopefully in the long-run it will pay off.

Plan A: Get a school counseling job in Bethlehem Area School District at a school I love and stay there until I retire. (My goal during grad school and after graduating.)

Plan A 2.0: Be a substitute teacher or full-time teacher assistant in Bethlehem Area School District so I could get my foot-in-the-door. (My plan when no school counseling jobs were posted).

Plan B: Work at the charter school I was offered a job at part-time this year (2016-2017) in hopes that it becomes full-time next year (2017- 2018). Continue working there until I can get a full-time school counseling job in a public school.
     [There are people and things that I loved about this school and will miss, but I didn't always feel welcome here. I learned that charter schools are different from public schools. I felt more comfortable in public schools.]

Plan B 2.0: Work at the charter school part-time 3-4 days per week and sub in local public schools, specifically Bethlehem the other 1-2 days per week to get my foot-back-in-the-door.
     [I was told in February by a colleague that my position will not be full-time next year (2017-2018). I was told toward the end of the year that my schedule would be 8-1 5 days per week, preventing me from subbing in other districts. This schedule, coupled with things that were said to me or in front of me that made me uncomfortable, made me feel like I had no choice but to resign without another job to move on to.]

Plan C: Apply to school counseling jobs at any district with a 30 minute commute or less. [Had one interview in December 2016, but didn't get the position.]

Plan C 2.0: Sub as a teacher and teacher assistant in Bethlehem Area School District to get back in the district. A building sub position would be good because I can get involved in extracurriculars, network with the counselor, and help plan school-wide events. Building subs have the opportunity to establish relationships with students because they're at the same school every day. Consider subbing in other districts as well that could have openings in the next year or so.

Plan C 3.0: Be a full-time teacher assistant in Bethlehem Area School District. Use applicable school counseling skills. Get involved in extracurriculars, network with the counselor, and help plan school-wide events. [Interviewed for, but didn't get the position.]

Plan C 4.0: Back to the plan to sub as a teacher and teacher assistant in BASD to get back in the district. If I don't have the opportunity to take a building sub position, I could work at an agency running groups in schools part-time and subbing the rest of the time.

Plan D: After I start subbing, update my resume and send it to any schools that take unsolicited applications. Let them know I would be happy to be a long-term substitute school counselor if the opportunity presented itself. Continue subbing to gain experience in the schools and apply for school counseling jobs when they come up.

Things I've learned about the application process in the last two years:

  • Districts like to hire people who were long-term substitute counselors for a few years in their district or who worked in the district in another position (hiring within).
  • Many times they know who they're going to give the job to before they even post it or conduct interviews. Posting the job is just a legal formality. 
  • Many schools don't want unsolicited applications, meaning if the job isn't posted, don't bother sending your paperwork in.
  • Long-term substitute school counseling jobs often are not posted


  1. How an I supposed to get a long-term substitute school counseling position if it isn't posted and I can't send in unsolicited applications? 
  2. As a substitute teacher, can I give a business card or resume to a school letting them know I'm certified as a school counselor and to call me if the need an LTS school counselor? Or is that unethical because it advertises my services?
  3. If I get a building sub job, is it okay to network with the counselor and ask to help plan school counseling events or run an extracurricular activity like peer mentoring? Or is that stepping on the other counselor's toes?
  4. Should I sub AND work at an agency that runs groups in schools so I keep up on my school counseling skills? 
  5. What kind of experience do school districts want school counselor candidates to have in order to be considered for open school counseling positions?
  6. How do I use this "gap" year to my advantage? 

This post comes on what would have been the first day for students at my old charter school. There are students and staff that I still miss, but I know it was not the right place for me. It's hard for me to know that if certain circumstances were different, I would be there today welcoming students back. Today is also the second day of in-service for most school districts in the Lehigh Valley. I'm not sitting at any of the trainings and I know I have to wait for another school year to finish in order to find out if I will get called for any interviews. I don't want to sit back and wait for someone to make decisions about my life for me. I'm not passive by nature. One of my counselor colleagues described me as a "go-getter" last year. I'm motivated to do what I love.

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