Teachers and non-teachers as school counselors: reflections on the internship experience.
Student guidance services
Peterson, Jean Sunde
|Publication:||Name: Professional School Counseling Publisher: American School Counselor Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Family and marriage; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2004 American School Counselor Association ISSN: 1096-2409|
|Issue:||Date: April, 2004 Source Volume: 7 Source Issue: 4|
|Topic:||Canadian Subject Form: School counselling|
This qualitative study examined the subjective experience of school
counseling interns (N = 26) with and without teaching experience.
Non-teachers acknowledged a steep learning curve as they adjusted to the
school and teacher cultures, but relied on personal qualities and
counselor training as they moved successfully into competence. Teachers
reported challenges related to altered roles, less structure and control
in their work, and unfamiliar ways of relating within the formerly
familiar school culture. Findings have implications for preparatory
curriculum, challenge assumptions about what teachers and non-teachers
bring to the field, and suggest that the groups would benefit from
differential guidance during their transition into the profession.
With only a few states continuing to require teaching experience for school-counselor licensure (American Counseling Association, 2003), interest may finally shift from whether non-teachers can be effective to how to prepare students who come from a variety of backgrounds. In regard to the former, studies comparing administrators' and teachers' perceptions of school counselors with and without K-12 teaching experience have generally found no major differences in perceived effectiveness (Baker & Herr, 1976; Dilley, Foster, & Bowers, 1973; Olson & Allen, 1993; Smith, 1994; White & Parsons, 1974). In addition, counselor educators appear to believe that teaching experience is not necessary for school counselors (Baker, 1994; Smith, Crutchfield, & Culbreth, 2001). Many administrators (Beale, 1995) and teachers (Quarto, 1999) still prefer that school counselors have teaching experience. However, it is not clear whether these educators believe that teaching is essential to develop instincts about the school culture or that a degree in education provides essential academic background. The Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs (CACREP, 2001) requires that school counselors have "knowledge of the school setting, environment, and pre-K-12 curriculum" (p. 92). Surprisingly, however, empirical research has not focused on whether and how counselor-education programs address assumed knowledge gaps in students without teaching experience, although Percy (1996) did present a model for preparing students for the school culture.
Most important, perhaps, researchers have also not looked at the perceptions of counseling students with and without teaching background. Studies have not, for example, explored whether those with and without teaching experience have qualitatively different pre-professional experiences and also differing needs, concerns, and self-perceived gaps in knowledge. Illuminating the experience of current interns and newly employed school counselors would provide comparisons to Peterson and Brown's (1968) study more than three decades ago of the perceptions of new counselors, especially in light of recent changes in the field. Studies of interns might also indicate that curricular adjustments are needed in order to meet the needs of both teachers and non-teachers during their field experiences. The absence of research attention to teachers in terms of moving from teaching to counseling is also noteworthy and may reflect an assumption that teachers have few challenges during this transition.
This exploratory study sought to begin to fill some of the gaps in the literature related to personal and professional adjustments of school counselors-in-training with and without teaching experience. The study also attends to a wider range of experiential areas than have been included in previous studies and, in contrast to recent related studies, focuses on the perceptions of the counselors-in-training themselves.
PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine the perceived experience of school counseling students, both with and without teaching background, during internship. Since the study was qualitative, the emphasis would not be on determining whether there were statistical differences between the two groups, although, thematic differences might indeed emerge. Rather, the researchers were interested in interns' perceived deficiencies, strengths, challenges, and adjustments related to 16 categories of competence during their first extended work as school counselors. This study would focus on the experience and perceptions of the counselors themselves, not on others' assessments of their competence or experiences, and not on their preparatory programs. Findings would potentially help counselor educators to understand students' personal and professional struggles during their field experiences, to be more effective in guiding students during their transition into the field, and to reassess preparatory curriculum in the interest of meeting students' needs. Findings would also offer guidance for future research.
Participants (N = 26) were enrolled in various school counseling programs in one Midwestern state and were nearing the end of the internship experience. Eight participants (7 females; 1 male) had had K-12 teaching experience, and 18 (16 females; 2 males) had had none. All participants were Euro-American. The majority were age 30 or younger (63% of teachers; 65% of non-teachers), although both groups included a wide age span (early 20s to 50s). The various internship settings of students in both groups ranged across all grade levels. At the time of the study, only two of the programs which were contacted were accredited by CACREP, although two more were preparing a self-study as part of the accreditation process. Since all programs in the state required at least a full-year, 600-hour internship, and since the study was interested in the internship experience across settings and programs, not in the programs themselves, the researchers did not distinguish between CACREP and non-CACREP when inviting potential participants in the state's nine programs and when analyzing the data.
Anticipating that the study would focus on extensive narrative responses of a relatively small number of participants, and desiring some similarity in participants' experience, the researchers determined that they would use a convenience sample from their own state, where licensing requirements were CACREP-based. Including a larger number of states would not have enhanced the generalizability of this qualitative study. The researchers also assumed that the growing number of states whose licensing requirements were CACREP-based or reflected core CACREP curricular requirements (American Counseling Association Professional Affairs Staff, 2001) contributed to some degree of national internship commonality. In addition, since completing the questionnaire required considerable investment of time, the researchers assumed that professional contact among counselor educators in their state would help to generate participation.
One year prior to this study, an informal survey had been sent to practicing school counselors in one region of the state as part of a service-oriented thrust of one of the state universities. That survey included open-ended questions about "enjoyable aspects" of school counseling, "difficult aspects, ethical dilemmas," and "advice for counselor educators." Findings from that survey informed the instrument being created for the current study, particularly the emphasis on building relationships with students, teachers, parents, and administrators; counseling skills; understanding the teacher culture; adjusting to the demands of school counseling; and meeting ethical challenges.
With those findings and state and CACREP (2001) standards in mind--especially those related to collaboration, skills, ethics, knowledge of development, and knowledge of the school setting--the researchers created a nonstandardized instrument representing various areas of competence. The instrument asked the same four open-ended questions in reference to each of sixteen areas:
* What were your greatest challenges and difficulties?
* What do you wish you had known?
* What did you appreciate about your training?
* What did you appreciate about yourself?
The sixteen categories of school-counselor experience and competence were as follows:
* Counseling skills
* Relationships with teachers
* Relationships with students
* Relationships with administrators
* Relationships with parents
* Conducting whole-classroom lessons
* Conducting small group sessions
* Conducting individual counseling sessions
* Understanding teacher concerns
* Understanding administrator concerns
* Understanding parent concerns
* Understanding child/adolescent development
* Understanding the "teacher culture"
* Adjusting to the day-to-day world of education
* Adjusting to the demands for personal flexibility
* Adjusting to the physical and emotional demands of school counseling
* Ethical concerns and ethical decision making
The survey included space for written responses to the four questions in each category.
The researchers contacted a counselor educator at each of the state's nine school counseling programs, asking for the number of students expected to complete internship during the spring semester. Accordingly, a total of 130 surveys were subsequently distributed. The counselor educators were to distribute the questionnaires to the interns, who would then return them anonymously in an enclosed stamped envelope. It is unknown how many programs actually distributed the surveys. A total of 26 interns responded (8 teachers; 18 non-teachers), a number sufficient for an in-depth, exploratory, qualitative study relying on narrative data (Creswell, 1998).
Returned questionnaires were given a code number to allow tracking during analysis (e.g., to ascertain whether one, two, or several participants were responsible for the repetition of a particular comment over several categories). Data analysis was conducted as follows, according to basic tenets of phenomenological data analysis (Creswell, 1998). Narrative responses were analyzed qualitatively for themes independently by three of the researchers. They attempted to bracket out preconceptions (Moustakas, 1994), based on the literature or their own biases, and searched for "all possible meanings" (Creswell, p. 52). Thematic analysis was conducted on one participant at a time (Moustakas), then on the responses of all participants to each question (as regrouped by computer), and then across all questions for all participants. The process was facilitated by color-coding phrases according to emerging themes. Applying the constant-comparative methodology of Glaser and Strauss (1967), similarly coded language units were then compared and grouped together, with individual units and clusters of units continually reassessed for fit with the emerging coding scheme, which itself was open to modification. Ultimately, clusters of meanings (e.g., reliance on personal attributes, adjustments to school culture), reflecting underlying structures, were formed (Polkinghorne, 1989).
Subsequently, the researchers met to compare their analyses and discuss the findings, using the uninvolved team member as a peer debriefer for verification (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Themes continued to emerge during this meeting, and the researchers checked continually to see that each theme was reflected in comments from a majority of participants in the group being considered (e.g., those with teaching background or with no teaching background). Participants' comments were then regrouped under the various thematic categories, according to consensus. The only quantitative analysis involved frequency counts and percentages in some instances.
The first basic theme across both groups was that the school context requires significant adjustments for school counseling interns, regardless of teaching experience. In this regard, an unexpected quantitative finding was that teachers and non-teachers averaged a similar number of references to "challenges and difficulties" throughout the questionnaire (9.8 references per teacher versus 9.4 references per non-teacher). However, the themes which emerged differed considerably between the two groups. Themes in the narrative language of non-teachers revolved around three areas: gaining respect and credibility; developing classroom skills; and adjusting to the school culture. By contrast, the most dominant theme which emerged in the language of the teachers was the need to adjust to an altered work environment. Themes which emerged from the narrative language of participants are summarized in Table 1.
Adjustments of Teachers
An altered work environment. The majority of interns with teaching background reported being challenged personally in terms of adjusting to less emphasis on content, less structure in their work day, and less measurement of work accomplished. These teachers had to make personal adjustments not only to duties that were demanding and time-consuming, but also to a schedule which was much less firm than what they were used to as teachers. They needed to perform unfamiliar tasks and deal with school processes in new ways as well. They actually listed specific aspects more often than did the non-teachers (e.g., "Getting permission slips in," "Crisis intervention," "Confidentiality").
Their teaching experience also did not exempt them from feeling challenged regarding competence in newly unfamiliar territory, according to another theme which emerged. They mentioned having to adjust to new age levels, sometimes to a new school, to new expectations, to needing to know a broader curriculum and "who teaches what," to elementary students' art and physical education schedules, and to "principals' and teachers' attitudes toward counseling."
Another theme was that new awareness of student issues required an adjustment in perspective. Some were dismayed by poorly motivated students, were shocked to learn of young students' sexual experiences, felt overwhelmed by "the medicine students are on," and were discouraged by the fact that "kids do not have parents who care."
Teaching experience did not necessarily make working with teachers in a new role easier, according to yet another theme. Participants with teaching background struggled to be able to meet with students during class time, faced classroom teachers who resented interruptions, and found daunting the logistical aspects of scheduling individual and group sessions. They found some teachers "difficult" and felt ignored and not taken seriously--in a context where respect had previously not been an issue.
Another theme reflected that their former knowledge and skills were not sufficient in their new role, nor could they rely on role models (e.g., "I'd never witnessed counselors in the classroom at these levels for anything other than scheduling"). They needed "to delegate," "balance the teacher and counselor in myself," "manage crises," and "think on my feet." Some of the teachers wished for "sample lessons and ideas." Even with classroom management, some felt their skills were inadequate, especially with new age levels, in small-group interventions, in very large groups, and with "really tough kids."
Altered relationships. In addition, their relationships with other educators had changed significantly, according to a consistent theme in the teachers' narrative responses. One intern felt like "the lone ranger," and another needed "to learn to relate in a slightly different way than 'fellow teacher.'" The ethical code also constrained formerly comfortable relationships with peers. Their perceptions of teachers had changed as well, one finding herself "judging teachers and wanting to agree with the kids about the teacher." Another "thought many of the teachers were unprofessional."
Changed perceptions of, and relationships with, administrators formed another theme. The teachers reported that they did not understand administrators as well as they had assumed, were unsure of the "exact role of an administrator," were newly aware of "how much administrators control the building," and needed to "remember that he sees the bigger picture." One teacher "had to figure out" their new counselor-administrator relationship.
According to yet another social theme which emerged, the relationships with students and parents had also changed. In new roles, the teachers were dealing with more parents more intensely than before, and students, no longer a guaranteed classroom audience, had to be convinced to participate in a group.
Adjustments of Non-Teachers
Challenges and difficult adjustments for non-teachers were both similar to and different from those of teachers. However, in contrast to the wide variety of teachers' responses, the themes which emerged in the language of non-teachers were limited to the areas of respect, classroom management and presentation, and the general school culture.
Respect. Both teachers and non-teachers struggled to gain respect and credibility as new counselors. However, the non-teachers were likely to perceive that a lack of respect reflected their lack of school experience.
Classroom skills. Some non-teachers remarked about their lack of classroom skills. For example, conducting classroom guidance was "nerve-racking" for one, and "figuring out classroom management, advice, and suggestions" challenged another.
The school culture. Many non-teachers perceived that they lacked understanding of teachers and the school culture. However, they learned to understand the "pressure on teachers to get in all of their academic material," "how teachers think," "the educational system," and "the politics and the barriers of being new to the culture."
Perceived Advantages of Teaching Experience
The teachers perceived advantages of teaching experience in four general areas:
* Relationships with students, teachers, and administrators
* Whole-classroom lessons
* Understanding teacher and administrator concerns
* Understanding the teacher culture and the day-to-day world of education.
However, some did not specify particular advantages. Two of the eight teachers simply cited "teaching experience," with no further elaboration, as what they appreciated about their training in 9 of the 16 survey categories. Those two and two others with teaching experience appeared to have interpreted "training" to include their training as teachers and remarked accordingly (e.g., "My counseling classes didn't prepare for [whole-classroom lessons], but my education courses did").
It should be noted that the teachers mentioned no advantage of teaching background in the following categories:
* Conducting individual counseling sessions
* Adjusting to the demands for personal flexibility
* Adjusting to the physical and emotional demands of school counseling
* Ethical concerns and ethical decision making
Only one respondent cited teaching experience as helpful in understanding child and adolescent development and parent concerns.
Concerning relationships, teachers referred to their understanding of educator concerns (e.g., "I know the frustrations of class interruptions and having kids miss," "I know my place in the loop," and "I know to steer clear"). In fact, one teacher said that there were no new challenges regarding the day-to-day world of education.
Reliance on Personal Attributes
In response to the survey items referring to what was "appreciated" (about self; about training), non-teachers averaged ten references to personal attributes each, while teachers averaged only three. That finding contrasts the groups' similar average numbers regarding "challenges and difficulties." In addition, non-teachers routinely provided more detailed responses, with four general themes emerging:
* Personal qualities
* Skills and abilities
* Aspects of self-maintenance
* Former work-related experiences.
Interns with teaching experience. Teachers noted a number of helpful personal attributes, among them being able to communicate with, "genuinely care for," and "grow with" each student. Being "determined to make a difference" helped to motivate the one male intern in his work. Being able to "let it go," being willing to read and stay current," and being flexible were other valued qualities in this group. However, the teachers mentioned relatively few personal attributes and only rarely mentioned specific skills learned in counselor training.
Interns without teaching experience. In contrast, non-teachers listed many personal attributes, naming flexibility (mentioned 26 times by the 18 non-teachers), adaptability., versatility, fortitude, creativity, and patience as helpful. Other virtues included "eagerness to learn," "persistence," "energy and enthusiasm," "willingness to try new experiences," a strong work ethic, "a natural ability to interact with youth," and "common sense."
The non-teachers also listed skills: "people skills" (mentioned 11 times), "listening skills," organization and observation skills, not having problems with authority, having a "respectful approach," and accommodating "different viewpoints than mine." In regard to collegial relationships, one referred to "my eagerness to get to know new people." Another remarked, concerning building effective relationships with peers and parents, "It's the same as any other interpersonal challenge." Being open to learning, a consistent theme, was also related to non-teachers' relationship-building. Regarding child development, for example, one non-teacher's "willingness to listen to teachers and hear their concerns about a student's development" helped to build a knowledge base as well.
Helpful professional background for non-teachers included "training in mental health," "experience with different populations, ages, and issues," and "experiences with parents." A few had done large-group work, which prepared them for whole-classroom interventions, and 39% appreciated their background as parents.
When they responded to the question regarding what they appreciated about their training, the non-teachers routinely listed several specific skills learned in coursework. They also typically used counseling-related terminology; including being able to "build a working alliance," "build nonjudgmental relationships with students," "be empathetic," be "comfortable with silence," and be "willing to learn from students."
All but two of the 18 non-teachers cited difficulties with whole-classroom interventions, including managing student behavior, overcoming anxiety, and finding age-appropriate activities. However, 72% noted personal qualities and professional behaviors that supported them as they became more proficient, including "resourcefulness in finding materials and ideas," "use of active learning," and an "ability to read the students' reactions." One wrote, "The more I gave presentations, the more comfortable I got."
The School Culture: A Challenge for Both Teachers and Non-teachers
An unexpected quantitative finding was that teachers were just as likely as non-teachers to mention challenges related to adjusting to the school environment, with individuals in both groups averaging three such comments in response to various open-ended questionnaire items.
Teachers. Comments by the teachers were fairly evenly distributed among several school-culture areas. In addition to being frustrated by the logistics of arranging small and large-group activities and by teachers' resistance to children leaving class for counseling, they mentioned having to deal with ambiguous school rules, respond to differing expectations in the schools they served, relate to new age groups, and learn about school "politics." However, though these teachers expressed frustrations about the school environment across several categories, they responded only minimally, if at all, in the category actually labeled "understanding the teacher culture."
Non-teachers. Unlike the teachers, non-teachers were more likely to list comments about school culture only in the "culture" category. They referred to school policies, protocols, and politics; others' perceptions, attitudes, behaviors, and expectations; and school structure. Their comments were similar to, but were more varied, than those of the teachers. Reflecting a concern of the teachers, non-teachers reported being frustrated by school structures, especially related to time and space constraints; the logistics of setting up small groups ("very time-consuming"); and "making contact with administrators."
In regard to policies, protocols, and politics (mentioned by 50%), one non-teacher wrote that her school was "very political." Others struggled to understand "how schools operate," "when to go to administrators," "policies and financial matters," "the division between administration and counseling staff," and "curricular requirements."
Non-teachers reported a sense that teachers and administrators did not support "the philosophy of counselors," utilize counselors, or respect confidentiality. Colleagues wanted "immediate solutions and practical results" and were resistant to groups, and some preferred that counselors should first be teachers. One non-teacher struggled to figure out "what people want from me."
Teachers: An Unexpected Finding
The fact that, on average, the teachers cited as many concerns as did non-teachers surprised the researchers. That unexpected finding suggests that negotiating the transition from teaching to counseling may pose more challenges than is usually assumed. School administrators, teachers, and counselor educators may all be more likely to anticipate the challenges faced by non-teachers than those encountered by teachers. The need to adjust to an altered work environment, which emerged as the dominant theme in the language of the teachers, will receive most of the focus in this discussion, not only because it was unexpected, but also because it has important implications for preparatory curricula, including field experiences. A major contrast in the findings was that teachers were more detailed and emphatic than non-teachers in regard to challenges and difficulties, while non-teachers elaborated more than teachers in their responses about what they relied on in themselves and from their counselor training.
The fact that teachers wrote about contextual challenges in categories other than the specific school-culture category may indicate that they are not accustomed to thinking in terms of "school culture." Therefore, unlike non-teachers, they may be surprised if they experience discomfort in their new roles. In the following, the researchers speculate about what the teachers' dominant theme might reflect.
Clarity, credibility, and closure. First, whether or not they return to a familiar school, former teachers may feel they have relinquished a clear place in the school hierarchy as well as clarity of role and function. They may also sense that they must earn credibility in their new role--with students, faculty, administrators, and parents. Both they and their fellow educators may actually be unclear about this role.
Both teachers and non-teachers in this study were frustrated with how they assumed others perceived them. However, teachers' comments suggest that they may be especially bothered by anyone's perception that they are inconsequential or "not doing much" in their new work. They may also have difficulty adjusting to what may seem like fragmented, disrupted days characterized by a lack of closure. In that regard, they may feel the absence of familiar teaching rhythms associated with units, assignments, exams, and grading periods as well as the benchmarks of accomplishment associated with those.
Control. Former teachers may also perceive a subtle loss of control, not in terms of controlling students, but in needing to be less directive, less "fix-it," less driven by content, and more tolerant of ambiguity. Instead of managing their time and classrooms as teachers, now they may feel less in control of their day. Demands on their time may seem more externally imposed. Feeling always "on call," they may miss having a planning period. They must also become accustomed to making requests of teachers and asking permission to conduct much of their daily work. Instead of having "their own" students, now they must "borrow" them from classrooms for individual and group interventions. In short, the school environment may feel unfamiliar.
Social changes. Their peer relationships probably also have changed. As counselors, privacy issues are a prime concern. Their new concerns and constraints may alter peer relationships, especially if former teachers have returned to their schools in a new role. In that case, colleagues may have difficulty letting them be "something else." In their new counseling role, they may be perceived by teachers as "not being on their side," as one participant wrote, when withholding information about students.
Formerly socialized into a hierarchy where school leadership is typically associated with administrators, these teachers may also find the notion that they are now expected to be agents of systemic change (House & Martin, 1998) especially unsettling. They may anticipate, and actually experience, the loneliness of leadership. Self-reflection becomes a necessity as they become newly aware of school culture, a culture that was once taken for granted. One teacher noted that her counseling internship actually helped her to "understand the teacher culture."
Changing from teacher to counselor. Their roles have changed as well. For example, their new counselor roles include crisis intervention, an aspect of school life in which teachers are usually not major players. Making the transition to being a key player during school and individual student crises, and to focusing largely on affective concerns, may be challenging, as some noted in this study.
As counselors, during whole-classroom activities, they need to apply skills that are likely to be more facilitative and process-oriented than the skills they employed as teachers. They may also need to relate to a wider range of age, development, and motivation than previously. Those who enjoyed the planfulness of teaching and practiced high-control classroom management initially may feel uneasy in the counseling role, which demands flexibility, tolerance of uncertainty and ambiguity, and openness to others' experiences.
As noted earlier, two of the teachers repeatedly cited teaching experience as what they appreciated about their training in nine of the categories of interest. Undoubtedly, there is overlap between teaching and counseling in regard to some of the personal qualities and interpersonal and organizational behaviors that the non-teachers explicitly cited as beneficial. Perhaps the two teachers saw their teaching experience as simply the most beneficial of many elements in their background, understood collectively as their "training." However, the repetition of "teaching experience" for those two, and their lack of reference to counselor training, raise questions related to the transition, of at least a few in the field, from teaching to counseling:
* Do some teachers view teacher training as sufficient for the transition, with counselor training only a perfunctory rite of passage?
* Do some teachers have particular difficulty making the transition to counseling?
* In terms of making a thorough transition, are there differences between practicing teachers who are part-time counseling students and those who cease teaching and become full-time students?
* Are there differences between counselors who formerly taught in the same school and teachers who begin their counseling career in a different school?
* If, in fact, some former teachers value teacher training more than counselor training, do they more willingly accede to administrative decisions which limit school counselors to academic and career guidance?
* What curricular elements in preparation programs might ensure that students make a thorough transition from teacher to counselor?
Non-Teachers Fill in the Gaps
Non-teachers testified repeatedly that they were open to learning and, over time, learned to understand and empathize with their colleagues. In addition, some believed they had had adequate academic training concerning the school culture. Many commented about their increasing comfort and skills in classroom presentations, and several mentioned that they appreciated knowing how to pursue information to enhance these experiences.
The non-teachers often referred to specific content of their counseling courses. They also valued a variety of former life and professional experiences as well as helpful personal attributes. They did not feel as confident about child development as did those with teaching background, but in that area, as with the school culture, classroom management, and themselves, the internship experience was apparently a rime of intense learning. The tone of their collective narrative responses as they neared the end of their internship was confident and optimistic.
LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS
The open-ended nature of the survey in this exploratory, qualitative study allowed participants great latitude in choosing which aspects of their experience to communicate and yielded rich narrative data. Future comparative or confirmatory statistical studies with larger and more ethnically diverse samples might use Likert-type items or checklists to compare school counselors with and without teaching experience in terms of specific aspects of the school counseling experience, incorporation of new concepts into practice, personal transitions, adjustments associated with various grade levels, and self-or other-assessed competencies after 1 or 2 years of experience. These larger studies might also address some of the questions raised in the Discussion section about the transition from teaching to counseling as well as differences in terms of age and gender. For example, asking former teachers whether their internship was in a new or former environment, and whether they were part-time or full-time students, would help to ascertain whether the thematic differences between teachers and non-teachers in this study were due to those aspects of student circumstances and school context. Studies examining curricular responses of preparatory programs to the concerns which emerged in this study would also be helpful. In addition, considering the altered school culture for former teachers, studies comparing teachers and non-teachers in terms of advocacy (cf. House & Martin, 1998) and leadership for systemic change (cf. Clark & Stone, 2000; Dollarhide & Saginak, 2003; Gysbers & Henderson, 2002) might illuminate whether teaching experience is an advantage or disadvantage in those relatively new areas of emphasis in school counseling.
The fact that there were more respondents who lacked, than had, teaching background might suggest that non-teachers are eager to communicate that they have met the challenges associated with entering the school culture. Of course, their higher numbers may also reflect that the counselor educators who promoted participation in this study represented programs which had more students without, than with, teaching experience, reflecting demographics typical in their state at that time. It is unknown, of course, whether the interns who responded had experienced more, fewer, or different challenges and difficulties than those who did not respond.
Only one state was represented in the sample.
However, the limited context may help to keep the focus on the perceptions of two categories of interns, rather than on variables related to geography. The participants represented a wide age range, but were predominantly female and were entirely Euro-American. This exploratory study looked at the experiences reported by 26 individuals, with the assumption that the findings may be transferable (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) or reasonably extrapolated (Cronbach & Associates, 1980), depending on contextual similarity.
This study explored the personal and professional adjustments of school counseling interns with and without teaching experience. Though non-teachers acknowledged challenges related especially to adjusting to the school culture and developing classroom skills, they reflected a steep learning curve; had relied on personal qualities, previous work experience, and counselor training; and felt competent near the end of their internship. Teachers appeared to have had no less difficulty in adjusting to their new roles than those without teaching experience, but the two groups' reports differed considerably regarding what aspects had been challenging and what they had relied on as they made adjustments.
Unexpected findings concerning the adjustments of teachers may be the most significant contribution of this study and appear to challenge assumptions long associated with the function of teaching experience in the preparation of school counselors. Transitions in the previously familiar and comfortable school culture to new roles and to new ways of relating, according to this study, can mean daunting challenges for former teachers. Counselor educators and supervisors would be wise to acknowledge and normalize these challenges, offer appropriate guidance about the "new" school culture, provide opportunities for oral and written self-reflection, and monitor teachers' professional and personal development and adjustment carefully during field experiences in counseling. The findings in this study underscore that, though teachers have had valuable experience with school personnel and curricula, they, like non-teachers, may wish they had known more about "the inner workings of a school" and even "what the position of school counseling would entail," as noted by teachers here.
The findings have implications for curriculum in the preparation of school counselors. Programs are challenged to accommodate differences in background, developing a strong knowledge base for all school counselors-in-training, regardless of previous experiences. Curricula must help non-teachers compensate for their lack of professional experience in the school context and must help teachers make a successful transition into new roles. In regard to the latter, counselor educators probably should pay particular attention to the adjustments of teachers interning in their current schools.
However, both groups in this study cited many perceived gaps in their preparation. Raising awareness of school culture (including school, teacher, and administrator cultures), providing resources for building a guidance curriculum, training students to articulate the role of school counselors to school personnel and parents, filling gaps of knowledge (e.g., regarding special education, brief counseling, play therapy, legal issues, crisis response), and skills-training specifically related to working with children and parents--these curricular areas reflect themes in the responses of both teachers and non-teachers to the survey question "What do you wish you had known?" Counselor educators can assume that these areas are essential in the curriculum for students regardless of background and are crucial to effective work in the schools. In addition to important academic curriculum, according to this study, teachers and non-teachers would benefit from differential support and guidance during their preparation as school counselors.
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This study was supported by a grant from the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision.
Jean Sunde Peterson, Ph.D., is an associate professor, Department of Educational Studies, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN. E-mail: email@example.com. Ronald Goodman, Ed.D., is a professor and Thomas Keller, Ed.D., is an associate professor.; both are in the Counselor Education Program, Butler University, Indianapolis, IN. Amy McCauley was a graduate student at Purdue University at the time of this study.
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