I spent 12 years in public education in Arizona both as a teacher and school counselor. I started teaching in 2005 when I was fresh faced and right out of college. My original intention was to teach for two years, go back to get my Master’s and then work as school counselor for the remainder of my career. It seemed like it was going to be the perfect fit. I didn’t think I wanted to be a classroom teacher, but I had always connected with teenagers as a mentor (even when I was a teenager) so I figured that school counselor was the best way to do that. Then, the weirdest thing happened…I kind of fell in love with teaching. Not right away, it was a pretty slow process, to be fair. If I could have afforded to go back for my Master’s after 2 years, I would have and my story could be completely different. The reality was, however, that teachers in Arizona do not make very much money and it was clear quite quickly that going for my Master’s was going to have to wait. Year 1 of teaching is hard. Perhaps one of the hardest that I ever had; you don’t really know what you are doing, you don’t know who you are as a teacher and you are just trying to keep your head above water for the most part. Year 2 is better, mostly because you actually know what to expect. You are still figuring yourself out, but you start to be able to evaluate yourself as teacher-meaning if a lesson or activity went awry, you can tell what happened and determine a more effective course. Year 3 is when you find your groove. You know what you are doing, you have created processes and procedures that work, you have figured out how to monitor and adjust and you actually start to have more successes than what feel like failures. If I am being totally honest, I never would have made it to year 12 in education if I had left the classroom to go get my Master’s degree, even if the intention was to return to the field.
I did eventually return for my Master’s degree in counseling and in a serendipitous mistake, ended up studying mental health counseling instead of school counseling. When I was speaking to my academic advisor, I asked “with the Master’s in Professional Counseling, will I be able to work as a school counselor?” They said yes. For whatever reason, I did not do ANY research into whether or not this random person on the phone had any idea what they were talking about (how I let that go is still beyond me, but-like I said-a serendipitous mistake because it brought me to where I am today) and began my Master’s journey. Throughout my ENTIRE program, nearly EVERY TIME I answered a discussion question, I started with “I am training to be a school counselor, so with that frame of reference in mind….” Not one person every said boo about that. So, on I foraged until it came time to do my internship. 750 hours of unpaid work to train to really be a counselor. I thought about how I could make that work with my school schedule and the fact that I had to work. Ultimately, what I ended up choosing was to pursue an internship with adolescents, but in a clinical setting so that I could work around my school schedule. Still believing that I would be able to work as a school counselor with this degree, I figured that getting some clinical experience would just help me when students were in crisis and what a great skill set to have in a school setting! At the end of the school year during the last leg of my internship, my principal called me in to her office and shared that a counselor was leaving and that she knew I was working on my Master’s in counseling. She thought I might be interested in the job (which I was, obviously). I said yes and she hired me! How great was this going to be! The school year ended, I finished up my internship and STARTED WORKING AS A SCHOOL COUNSELOR. It takes time for grades to post and transcripts to be official, so it was one day before the school year was to officially begin that I was finally able to take all of the required paperwork down to the department of education. I proudly presented my application, my teaching certificate and my transcripts and said “I would like to add school counselor to my certificate.” My stomach literally dropped to the floor when the gal said “ummmm this is the wrong kind of Master’s degree for that.” WHAT?!?!?! I didn’t even know what to do with that information. She explained to me the differences in the course work of the two (it is a difference of about 4 classes) and sent me on my way. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do. Long story short, the district allowed me to work as a counselor for that school year but informed me that it would not last longer than that unless I was able to figure out a way to get certified-which was nearly impossible with the time frame I had and the fact that I couldn’t afford to take more classes (school counselors in Arizona don’t make any money either). So, I spent one year as a school counselor and then went back to the classroom for a brief time; and learned my lesson the VERY HARD way that I need to do my own research about the things that are really important.
As it turns out, that mistake was the best thing I could have done for myself. I would have never pursued a clinical degree if I had realized that was what I was doing. Throughout the entire school counselor year debacle, I was also working part time at some local behavioral health hospitals and, through networking with clinical and school counselors, found my new home in an outpatient clinic. After I left education, I began working as an adolescent therapist in the individual and group setting and eventually became the Director of Adolescent Programs. This is the best combination of mentorship, teaching, counseling, and caring for other humans that I could possibly imagine and is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. With those thoughts in mind, I decided that a blog was the best way to allow me to take what I do every day and give it to the masses. I am unsure of who exactly is going to read it, but I am hopeful that I have some wise words for those that do. It will be equal parts a commentary on my journey, thoughts about the goings on in society and insight about the things that I see in the adolescents of the world. My dream is for my words to help guide parents, teachers and anyone who impacts the life of a young person as well as to validate the experiences that all of you have had in your lives. To show that we can grow from our experiences and that sometimes what seems to be a total detour from your plan can be the foundation of something you never could have imagined.