Counsellor’s Corner: Navigating Disaster Season

It comes with the territory: day in and day out, we get to witness young people navigate through the turmoil of adolescence. At no time is this turmoil more apparent than in the spring. For some reason, once spring hits, we enter what I call disaster season.

Now, I know this makes me sound incredibly pessimistic. Certainly, I could be more upbeat and call this “opportunity season” but when a steady stream of confused adolescents come my way, I do not feel terribly upbeat. Why? Because a lot of the students who I am going to make yet another effort to help before summer comes are quite capable of finding solutions to their problems on their own.

Okay, okay, I hear you all saying, “They’re just kids, Mr. Cranky-pants. They are going to change their minds a million times. It’s your job to sit there and take it like a Guidance Counsellor when they flip-flop.” While this is true (and, trust me, I will do my level best to treat every disaster season request with the dignity it deserves) boy-oh-boy can it be frustrating. When you meet with a student five times to discuss the downward trajectory of his grades (and call his parents for reinforcement and support) only to have the boy sitting wide-eyed across from you after mid-term report cards come out wondering why he is failing three of four courses, that’s pretty darn frustrating. When a young lady comes to see you about post-secondary plans and you proceed to review her grades, and give her a written account of what her next steps should be, only to have her return to you the following day because she has lost the plan you gave her, that’s pretty frustrating. When a graduating student cannot remember the password they created to access their university application, that’s pretty frustrating.

I guess I am ranting about the time spent on problems that have gone from minor to major because students have either neglected or dismissed things and are now expecting me to clean up their mess. I have to tell you: during disaster season, I have some pretty candid discussions with my students. They get to hear about the warnings that their teachers and I gave them prior to failing three out of four at mid-term. Students who seek my counsel agonizing over their future, only to return 24-hours later for a recap and re-write of the plan, are invited to sit down and write the plan out themselves. Potential graduates who lose the passwords are reminded that their relationship is with the universities now and that no one is really interested in speaking to a Guidance Counsellor advocating for someone who should be advocating for themselves. In my opinion, it is important that these students see and feel my frustration. They need to know that, when they don’t do what their supposed to do, it has an effect on other people.  

Now let’s get to the thing that really puts the idea of disaster into disaster season. Time spent on silly things like neglect, absent-mindedness and lost passwords means time spent away from the kids who start to come undone in the spring. A friend of mine who works in the mental health community says that spring is the toughest time for the people in our society who are hurting the most. Why? Because while everyone talks about how great they feel as the melting snow gives way to blooming flowers, people dealing with anxiety and depression wonder why they feel so lousy while everyone else feels so great. Tragically, suicides peek in the spring for this very reason. I turn into Mr. Cranky-pants because I am terrified that I am going to miss the opportunity to be there for a kid who could use my help because I am being distracted by drama kings and queens who are creating problems that they can easily solve without my involvement. In the end, disaster season is the right name for spring in Guidance. We need to feel frustration with the silly distractions and be ever mindful of potential real life disasters that are likely to come our way. I am very lucky to work with colleagues that are able to walk the razors edge of disaster season with a sense of balance that manages to discern between the kids who are just being kids and the ones who just might be heading for a perilous descent. Perhaps it is the combination of frustration and terror that keeps us on our toes. As long as neither the frustration nor the terror immobilizes us, we’ll be able to successfully navigate disaster season with a sense of purpose and professionalism that will not only keep kids on task, but will also help kids find some solace in the friendly confines of the Guidance Department.  

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.