Counsellor’s Corner: Sometimes We Need a Win

All of our careers follow an ebb and a flow. Some years are good and some years are not so good. In the end, we need to avoid getting too attached to the good years and not feel too beat down by the bad years. It’s the bad years that pose the greatest challenge and, as we get deeper into our careers, the bounce back becomes much more difficult. Sometimes we just need a win or two to get us back on our feet.

I’ve got three students on my mind as I get ready for another school year. They could be three stories that wind up in the win column.

The first student crossed my path when she was in Grade 9. We had to deal with a few challenges related to her course load and the college program destination she hoped to follow. Early on, her performance was not lining up with her goals. Things were kind of sputtering along and then, suddenly, her home life fell apart. She found herself living with a relative in another city at the start of the next school year. She returned to us at the beginning of second semester and we put a plan in place as she transitioned back to life at home. She really kept the family struggle to herself with the odd visit to the Child Youth Worker serving to introduce some stability to the situation. However, at school, we were in trouble: down nearly an entire school year, we needed to make up for lost credits and transition to the college destination pathway. The objective was to help her graduate on time with her peers. I have to say that I had my doubts when we put the plan in place but, by the end of Grade 11, this young lady defied the odds and has put herself in a position not only to graduate, but to also get into a fairly competitive college program. This one feels like a win already but I am going to hold off celebrating until she gets her diploma.

The second student poses a bit more of a challenge. This young man came to our school last year and, despite the best efforts of his parents and the school staff, could not bring himself to attend regular classes. We wound up delivering credits to him in our alternative education classroom on a reduced timetable. It turns out that this student had been experiencing school anxiety through his middle school years and was quite terrified about entering a classroom. This anxiety materialized in the form of illnesses (mostly head and stomach aches) and, eventually, non-attendance. While his parents sought out help with a few health care professionals, no one could really figure out why he wouldn’t/couldn’t go to class. Our team is going to work with this student again this year but, if he refuses to go to the classes that we offer him, we are going to have to send him to an alternative education school so that he can earn credits and get back on track to graduate. My hope is that this student will break through the barriers that are impeding his progress and he will be victory number two for the coming school year.

The third student I have in mind for a win is an elite athlete who is trying to balance a rigorous training schedule with a challenging school workload. We have done our level best to modify this student’s timetable as best we can but the overall plan is very ambitious. She has plenty of family support and the teachers on our staff are quite accommodating so these are two factors in her favour. However, we are not an “elite sports school” so we are trying to help an elite athlete achieve her goals while working within the existing structure of a regular school. This sometimes creates challenges when the family asks for something that our school structure is not really equipped to provide. However, I have to say, the conversations between myself and this young lady’s family have led to some pretty creative ways to keep the credit count on track without resorting to anything too out of the ordinary. It has also forced me out of a rigid this-is-the-way-things-are-done stance when it comes to serving the needs of a student who is just trying to see how good she can be in the sport that she loves. So, there you have it: three students and three potential wins. No doubt there will be a few losses this year but, in my opinion, these three are winnable. I am coming off a discouraging year on the job. My eyes have been opened to things I didn’t want to see. I am definitely on an “ebb” going out to sea and trying to “flow” back to land. If these students can pull through, they just might be the wins that I need to bounce back. Who will your “wins” be?

By: Sean Dolan

Sean Dolan taught for 20 years before moving into Guidance and Career Education six years ago. He is currently working as a high school guidance counsellor at St. Marcellinus Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario.