At TpT, we’re lucky to have a community of incredibly dedicated educators with a wide range of expertise, knowledge, and experience to share. This month, as part of our Teacher Voices series, we had the chance to speak with College Counselor Traci about the challenges older students are facing this year and the ways educators can support students as they prepare for college, careers, and life beyond K-12.
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I have worked in education for 14 years, including working as a College & Career Awareness Coordinator for middle school and high school districts, and 2 years working as an elementary Substitute Teacher! Third grade was my favorite.
Tell us a bit about you and your background.
My name is Traci Brown! I have been happily married to a fellow educator for 5 years and recently became a new mama of a busy toddler! So trust me when I say, I know time with family is everything!
When I am not creating resources for counselors (as I have been for the past 6 years), I work as a community college counselor for the African American Student Success Program on campus. I recently became the counselor coordinator for the program this year. I am also a Professor and mainly teach introduction to college, college success strategies, and career planning classes when my schedule allows.
What drove you to become a college counselor?
Through my personal experience as an African American woman and first-generation college student from a low socioeconomic background, I did not have any grand plans for my life. I just wanted a stable job to support my future family and not struggle. My passion for serving students and this career path results from a great middle school teacher and counselor who believed in my educational journey before I ever thought I would have one. That one year of interaction and support changed my life. Therefore, I am paying it forward to impact student lives the way a great teacher and counselor impacted mine. Working in a community college allows me to be a counselor and teacher to serve in both forms simultaneously. I love them both, and each is incredibly fulfilling in different ways. Community college is a second chance for so many students of all ages and backgrounds. I know what that second chance feels like and could mean for them.
Can you tell us more about your approach to counseling middle and high school students?
My pedagogy embodies a constructivist and reflective framework. This means that I instill a sense of trust in the classroom and office for students to express themselves freely and validate how they construct knowledge. Then, I guide students through self-reflection via inquiry. I help students reflect on what they do, why they do it, where that thinking comes from, and help them assess if that method is working for them. I believe I hold no answers for any student. They are the superheroes in their own life; I am simply the guide that helps them through the journey. I believe students can gain an incredible amount of power from learning that they are the smartest ones for authorship of their own life while knowing that they have someone who supports them. For some, it may sound scary to let students drive their own cars. However, as a counselor, my goal is to teach them how to drive well while allowing them the freedom and the euphoric sensation of choosing the direction. It makes the drive fun for everyone.
What have you been focusing on the most this school year, and why?
Grace and relationships. Grace for myself for missing meetings to spend time with my family. Not feeling guilty for not being able to help with events, like college campus visits, to simply connect with my students to chat about their favorite TV Shows and things they like to cook. Grace for my students with turning in assignments late and missing scheduled appointments. We all need this flexibility and grace because we are all genuinely still just trying to stay afloat.
How have the past few months affected your students?
My students’ lives have been flipped upside down, to say the least. It is a daily battle for them to believe that all of this work, time, and financial investment will pay off to them, reaching their dream college experience or landing a career/job afterward.
What kinds of challenges are older students facing during this time?
Older students are feeling the burden from all angles. Some are young parents; some are stand-ins for the parents while they work extra jobs, so now they are responsible for helping their younger siblings log in their Zoom classes and help them with homework. They are translators for their parents for all the things this season. They work part-time and full-time jobs in between studies and writing papers. The list goes on. They are sandwiched between this really complex world of student and adult, in a time where many of us can barely do one or the other, and they have no choice but to do it all.
Where might they need the most support from educators?
The support these students are needing is seen and unseen. Evident support includes scholarships and financial assistance. Our school has given them laptops, hotspots, and books. However, the unseen support is just as crucial and is where many of them are running out of gas. Someone who is committed to checking in with them regularly to help keep them going. Someone else to help them keep track of deadlines for college applications because they have so much on their plate already. Someone to remind them to see the sun every now and then. Someone to remind them their worth is not a grade, brand-name school, or whatever the media told them who they think they are. Someone to remind them they are not behind in life. This might very well be the most critical work.
How can educators best support high school students as they plan for life after school in these uncertain times?
High school students have it tough, no doubt about it. They are being robbed of some of our most memorable high school experiences. However, if we do this right, they will walk out of this the most resilient bunch ever. When will there be a more appropriate time to learn about what is really most important in a college choice than right now? What a perfect time to reflect on what career they want to explore, especially after witnessing the job market today? What a powerful moment to empower them to use their youth and voice to change their community and the world today from the injustices they see in their social media feed? High school students are learning skills they will need for life much sooner than most. Who’s to say they aren’t ready for it?
This year has brought about so many changes. What have been some of your biggest challenges and lessons you’ve that you’ve along the way?
The biggest challenge I faced this year as a counselor was navigating to find the balance of truly being someone’s lifeline while maintaining my own self-care of processing the traumas from this year’s events.
The best lesson I have learned this season, as morbid as it sounds, is that I am useless to my family, students, and fellow educators if I am 6 feet under. Therefore, I’ve got an inbox of papers to grade that I know I will eventually get to, and have been recycling the same PJ pants for all my virtual meetings this week so far. However, I am much happier to show up to the virtual appointments to have tough but needed heart-to-heart conversations with my students and staff. I am much more fulfilled dedicating time on the weekends back to my family, knowing that while being in this space with them all the time is exhausting, it is still a time I will never get back. Ultimately, I think we all just need to give ourselves permission to say, “You know what, a B- is good too!” And I think I’ve got at least a solid B- right now, and given the circumstances, that is not half bad.
If there was one thing you wanted other teachers to take away from this interview, what would it be?
I want teachers, counselors, and all educators to know that they are an “A+” person. This feeling of a “B-” season is probably what students really need from you and does not equal the greater impact you have on these students’ lives right now by just being someone they can rely on to show up and care about them.
Last but not least — what’s one thing that makes you smile? 🙂
My husband and my 19-month-old daughter. And coffee. Always coffee.
Greetings fellow counselors and teachers! I have worked in education for 15 years covering K-12, community college, and 4-year universities. I am currently a community college counselor and professor in California. I love what I do! I believe that we can do better together to help students dream beyond K-12. The wildest grade I taught was Kinder as a Substitute Teacher!