The Clemson University College of Education has produced quality educators in classrooms across South Carolina, but alumni from the College’s graduate programs serve other, equally important roles in schools. Hundreds of school administrators and coaches received their preparation in our College, and Barbara Dawson is among the many school counselors who are proud Clemson alumni.
Dawson serves as a school counselor at Robert Anderson Middle School in Anderson School District Five. She received a master’s and educational specialist degree in counselor education in May of 2020. We recently spoke to Dawson about how she found her way into the profession, what she loves about her job and how she balanced a very busy home and educational life during the program.
What do school counselors do?
We help students with their emotions and their feelings, and we help them apply interpersonal skills. We also help students plan for post-secondary options, whether it be higher education or going into the workforce or military. We provide individuals with short-term counseling for students, and we make referrals for any students that need long term support. In general, we collaborate with teachers, families, administrators and the community for student success.
Being a teacher is a calling. When I was younger, I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. As school counselors, we are also educators, but we see students from a different perspective. Robert Anderson Middle School is one of the largest middle schools in the state of South Carolina. At this time, the ratio is about 300 students to one counselor, so we get to serve an entire school.
I actually like being the one in the school that does not discipline the students; they can come to me, tell me anything and they know that whatever they say stays between the two of us and they will not get in trouble for what they tell me. I think the nature of the role is what inspired me to be a school counselor rather than a classroom teacher.
When did you know you wanted to be a school counselor?
I wish I could say “I always knew I wanted to be a counselor when I grew up,” but I actually didn’t until I was in my 30s. I was working as a school secretary, and I didn’t know how many lives you could touch by just smiling in the morning and greeting them. I had students tell me that was the highlight of their day or the reason they came to school. While working at the Anderson Institute of Technology during our completion ceremony, there would be students who would thank me–a school secretary–for just believing in them and learning about them. The students inspired me, so I just thought if I could inspire them that way, how much more could I do as a school counselor?
What tools does Clemson’s school counseling program provide its students?
I’m so thankful that I chose the program because it focuses on real-world applications. What we do in the classroom applies to what we do in our profession, and the faculty do a great job of really giving us everything we need to be a successful school counselor. Everything they cover is tied to our profession’s evaluation process with the state. There were times when I wondered how something might apply or how I would retain the information, but when I got into the profession, I realized how everything applied to the job.
An example of that would be something simple like the use of Play-Doh, which we ask students to use to create objects that represent how they feel. I’ll admit when that was first introduced, I wondered how in the world this was going to help me, but it’s an effective icebreaker when you’re working with students one on one or when you’re doing group counseling.
The internship experience was probably my real “aha moment” where I realized this is what I’m supposed to be doing. It is a total of 600 hours and 100 hours of practicum; you’re working with school counselors and students and getting a sense of their individual needs. I was always excited to come back during my internship experience.
You went through the program as a full-time student with four kids. How did you balance graduate school and family?
It took a lot of sacrifice on my end and from my husband and my children. I wasn’t home Monday through Thursday. The kids had a lot of fast food, which I guess they didn’t mind at all. It took a while for all of us as a family to find balance with that. When I think back, I don’t know how I did it because I’m not in school full-time now and I feel like I don’t have any time.
My professors knew that I was working full time the first year and that I had four kids, so they really worked with me as long as I stayed in contact with them and was honest about where I was with things. If I couldn’t get a paper done by the due date, they could be flexible. Dr. Ramsey and Dr. Hall were instrumental in my success at Clemson. They knew my situation and were very supportive. They worked with me and let me know that if I ever did feel overwhelmed, I could go for a part-time option. I am so thankful to them for giving me confidence and strength when I needed it and just being an inspiration.
Have you found that your job has helped you at home?
Yes! (laughs) My kids and my husband beg me not to counsel them. I guess I do it subconsciously. Just last weekend, I was visiting my sister and she kept asking me the same thing over and over. And I kept answering her the same way, but maybe changing my tone. When it finally clicked with her, my youngest son said “Mommy, you did a really good job explaining that. It must be because you’re a counselor.” So, I guess my kids are noticing.
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