“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Have you ever had someone make you feel small or insignificant? I feel like this has happened to me quite a few times in life. There are times when people are afraid to address me. I am not sure if this is because I look different, or they think I am incapable of answering for myself. When this occurs, I feel less than human. Perhaps there is no better illustration of what I am talking about than when I worked as a high school guidance counselor.
In May of 2012, I received my master’s degree in school counseling and I was eager to find a job where I thought I could make an impact on the lives of students. Just before receiving my master’s I did a year-long practicum at a local middle school. I enjoyed working with kids this age, as I felt like I could relate to them. When I was in junior high my father had just died, I felt like a freak due to my disability, and I was afraid to talk to most people. I think it is fairly common for most kids this age to have insecurities. Therefore, I felt right at home mentoring these students and helping them to navigate social and emotional issues. However, the year ended quickly and it was time to move on to other work. So, with my master’s degree complete I set off to find a job within my chosen field.
Dozens and dozens of job applications were completed, and there were a few job interviews along the way. However, it was two months before I was offered a job. Without many other options I felt as if I had to take this job, as I was about to get married and I wanted to be employed before the wedding. So, I took a job at a small high school with a student body of nearly 300 students. In hindsight this was probably not the best decision that I could have made, however, I learned some things about myself through this job.
Just weeks before my wedding I moved all of my books, and other belongings into my new office at the high school where I’d be setting off on this new adventure of being a guidance counselor. Little did I know that it would also be the beginning of five very stressful years of life. This was due to several factors.
To begin, the principal that I worked under my first year seemed to have some issues relating to the staff. The building that I worked in seemed very divided. There were those that liked the principal and those that despised him. Oftentimes, I was caught in the crossfire. There were times when I was approached by staff members to make decisions that only a school administrator should be making. I also felt like kids were being sent to me for disciplinary reasons, which again the principal should have been handling. I began to get a sense that something was wrong with my boss.
He was not just a poor administrator, there seemed to be something wrong with his mind. Sadly, this would turn out to be true, as he retired before my second year. He then died just a few years after of Alzheimer’s disease. He was a kind and honorable man who gave me my first job as a counselor. For that, I will forever be grateful. He also encouraged me along the way that first year, which meant a lot to me. Things would change quite dramatically the next year.
The school board hired a man who had been a police officer at one point in his career. He then decided to get into education and had served for several years as a vice-principal at another area high school. From the very start I sensed that things would be different with this man. He was much more of a leader. He also had a strong work ethic. Furthermore, he was a man that did a lot of good for the school. However, he also had a way of making others feel small.
Growing up I always had insecurities about myself. I never felt like I was good enough for anyone or anything. Some of these feelings I still harbor today. My new boss deepened these insecurities. He did this by making me feel like there was only one way to do things, and that was “his way.” This began to paralyze me in an emotional way. It made me question every decision that I made. I would often ask myself questions like, “is this the way he would do it?” This made going to work each day a living hell. I felt like I was always under a microscope. Being micromanaged when you feel as if you already don’t measure up to an impossible standard is horrifying.
Many sleepless nights were spent worrying about going to work the next day. Would I be called into the bosses’ office for doing something “incorrectly?” Would I be criticized for handling a situation “poorly?” It seemed like a never ending cycle of not being good enough. I felt smaller than I have ever felt in my life. After four years, with the support of my loving wife, I turned in my resignation letter. On the day that I did this, my boss asked me if there was something he did to cause me to leave. I glossed over the situation and told him that the job was just too stressful and that I needed to leave. I wish I would have had the courage to tell him how he had made me feel for those four years that I worked under him.
I was the only counselor at this high school. I was responsible for helping students not only socially and emotionally, but I was also in charge of insuring that certain special educational plans that had been put in place for several students were followed. I was also responsible for creating class schedules for each student every year. This alone occupied most of my time from early December through June of each year. Likewise, it was my responsibility to oversee that every student throughout the district who was classified as homeless was provided certain accommodations. I was also expected to be at every IEP meeting for every special education student in my building. There simply was not enough time to do everything that was expected of me, let alone worry about whether or not I was doing things “the correct way.” One conversation that I had with my boss that will always stick with me is one in which he told me, “I always do things the correct way.” The arrogance in these words shocked me. They also were certainly not true. For, he did not treat his staff with the respect that they deserved. The year that I resigned, there were 6 other staff members that left as well. It makes me wonder if they felt as small as I did when I left that school.