I am a COVID counselor. Zoom meetings, covered faces and unprecedented times are all I know. My internship began during the 2019–2020 school year. I remember calling my mom on the way home from the first day of school with tears in my eyes. Nothing had ever felt more right, and I knew that being a school counselor was the perfect job for me.
I now laugh when I think of March 13, 2020. Instead of worrying about our futures, the entire Schaumburg High School staff stopped what we were doing and ferociously packed bags of food for students. We had no idea what was going to happen, but we knew we had to make sure our students were fed. I fondly remember running after a bus through the school parking lot to make sure every student on board had a bag of food to take home. We all went above and beyond during our internship year, and my experience was no exception.
When an extended spring break turned into never going back to school, I was terrified. Would I find a job? Would I love my new school as much as I loved SHS? How in the world would I do this without my supervisor?
I give school counselors who applied for jobs pre-COVID-19 a lot of credit. Filling out every application within the northern part of Illinois became my full-time job. I did 100 applications and more than 30 virtual interviews. One interview even happened at 8:00 p.m. after a student service director’s kids went to sleep. All bets were off, but I was determined to make my dream of becoming a school counselor a reality.
After grueling months of applications, interviews and wearing my blazer and pajama pants at the same time, I got a job. I could not believe it was finally happening. I was going to be an actual school counselor. The relief, excitement and joy were indescribable, and I could not wait to get started. I was certain we would be back in school by fall of 2020 with all the COVID-19 nonsense behind us.
Just as we tell students applying to college, we all end up where we are supposed to be. Elgin High School is a magical place, and I was honored to begin my career there. As the months went on, we realized that students were not going to be coming into the building anytime soon. Adapt, adapt, adapt. The most astonishing part of working from my mom’s kitchen during the first year of my big-girl job was that my schedule was always full. Zooms flooded my calendar day after day. Not only did mental health check-ins, college visits and LST meetings adapt, but school counselors did as well. The pandemic may have changed the world, but it did not diminish the hard work and determination of our profession. Nevertheless, we persisted.
After submitting more than 100 job applications in 2020, I saw that there was going to be a job opening in the district where I interned. I threw my hat into the ring expecting nothing and was flabbergasted when I got called for an interview. And another one. And a final interview with the principal herself. I was beside myself with nerves, still trying to figure out a way to prove my passion for a profession that I had barely gotten a real taste of yet. When I got the call that I had the position, I nearly fell over. I could not believe that the worst time the world had ever seen had proven to give me countless, incredible opportunities. These opportunities made me the school counselor I am today, and in June 2021, I became the college and career counselor at Conant High School.
Long story short, here are the most important lessons I learned along the way:
Your colleagues will become your life jackets, comedic relief and built-in therapists.
Kids just need love.
Always have good candy.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “I promise you, it is never usually like this,” over the last two years, I could have already retired. I think we are all finally coming to the realization that this is, in fact, our new normal. Students are struggling more than ever, but nevertheless, we persist.
I am truly honored to be a school counselor. As Dr. Paul Duffy, my internship supervisor, always says, we really do have the best job in the world.
Contact Pamela Nehrke, college and career counselor at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, at firstname.lastname@example.org.