Tuesday was my first day of school, but this time I was not the student or even the teacher. I was the counselor. The dormitory counselor, to be exact, otherwise known as the person who spends every waking (and sleeping) hour with the kids when they are not in class. This school is different because the kids don’t leave; they live there. And for 40+ hours a week, I sort of live there, too. First days are special because you are often filled with all kinds of emotions: excitement, fear, nervousness, joy, and hope, to name a few. First days are magical because your impression of this new chapter in your life is completely untarnished by any negative experience that may be in your future. The first day is the most beautiful and pure experience you will ever have when it comes to that particular life journey. “Anything can happen,” you think. “Think of the people I will meet and the lives I will save.” But then, what comes after the first day is the real journey. The first day is just the beginning, as rose-colored and perfect as it is. After the first day is when relationships are built and progress is made–all the real important stuff. So, everyone, enjoy your first days, but look forward to everything the future holds!
I got the job! After lots of back and forth emails, phone calls, and missed phone calls, my background check finally went through and I received notice that I have officially been extended a job offer. And…I accepted! I will not pretend that this job is some kind of godsend or fairy tale. However, I strongly believe that it is an excellent match to both my experience and interests. Without giving too much away for the sake of anonymity, I’ll tell you a little bit about my brand spanking new job. (I still have to figure out how confidentiality at the job works, but it’s safe to say that I probably won’t be able to say much about it here.)
The Job: I will be a dorm counselor at a residential school for severely emotionally disturbed children and adolescents. The school has a prestigious reputation within the mental health community for its effective therapeutic techniques in helping students grow and meet normal developmental benchmarks. Students are sent to the school with psychological issues that run the gamut from autism to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia (and a lot in between). Typically, students are sent to the school because the resources available to them at home and their traditional school are not enough to meet their diverse needs.
As a dormitory counselor, I play a vital part in successfully carrying out each student’s individual treatment plan. A member of the treatment team and the supportive therapeutic community, I monitor each student’s level of functioning and I collect data on their progress. In addition to planning therapeutic recreational activities, I also will utilize my counseling skills to provide support for all students and to promote pro-social problem-solving skills. When necessary, I will use nonviolent physical restraint methods that I will learn from my certification in Therapeutic Crisis Intervention to ensure everyone’s safety.
The school has students in elementary school and students in high school; they are separated into different dorms based on age and gender. This year, I will be working with the younger elementary-aged boys. The hours are irregular, which means that nothing is sacred. Not weekends, not nights, not Christmas–nothing. These kids need support 24/7 and that does not mesh well with a Monday-Friday 9-5 job. While I’ll only officially work 40 hours, there will be overtime for things like birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries (a way to celebrate the anniversaries of when students were first admitted to the school).
I am ready to delve into this adventure headfirst! I have already started brainstorming different activities I can lead with the students and I have started looking up research articles on the treatment the school follows. Now it’s time for the next chapter in my life. I have a college degree and I’m about to go use it. It’s an exciting time to be 23 and alive. 🙂