Sometimes the greatest rewards of being a school counselor come in a small note or the barest of smiles from a student. If you can relate to that feeling, you’ll appreciate the beauty of the small win shared by this week’s guest Bob Tyra.
This Week's Storyteller
Bob Tyra’s professional experience in Massachusetts, California, and New York includes twelve years of counseling experience in junior high and high school counseling programs as well as high school and adult school regional career counseling programs. He has been an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher and program administrator, California State University adjunct professor, and assistant principal in juvenile probation camps and community schools. He retired from his position as a Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) Student Services Project Director in 2011 and is currently a K12 Strong Workforce Pathway Coordinator and College2Career Fairs co-founder.
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Hi everyone – welcome to Encouraging Words for School Counselors – the little podcast that could, and does, every week – with stories about school counseling, FROM school counselors. I’m Matt Fleck with Inspire Success.
I have known Bob Tyra for a LOT of years. Bob has been a middle school and high school counselor in New York, Massachusetts, and California; he’s worked as a state level school counseling consultant; but he might best known as one of the initial creators of SPARC – the well-respected Support Personnel Accountability Report Card – that highlights the amazing work of school counselors in California.
Bob was also an adjunct professor for counselor education programs in two universities over 25 years, and he would often share this story of not worrying about making a HUGE impact as a counselor, but looking for ways to make small wins with students.
I was in for an interim. I was doing — someone was on maternity leave, and they hired me to come in for six weeks, maybe eight. And they handed me this referral and it’s a student special ed. And he had a mountain of problems. I mean, there’s nothing I’m going to really do in the eight weeks, but somehow, some way, I found out he couldn’t tell time. He couldn’t tell time. And, and, and the, the rest of the people in his class knew it. And they would kind of tease him about it. We spent six weeks. I would be there once or twice a week. And I taught him how to tell time. Now, we talked about other things in the interim, about his life and what’s going on at home and this, that, whatever. I was a good listener, but my bottom line is: you’re going to tell time.
So my last day on the job, I go out and get myself a really nice new silver dollar. And I walk into the special ed, uh, trailer, as you know, the special ed trailers are on the South 40, right? And I walk into there and I’m with him. I said, you know, Johnny, you know, I’m going to bet a dollar, and I threw the dollar down, I’m going to bet you can’t look at the clock and tell me what time it is. He goes, it’s one o’clock, and takes the dollar. I never saw a smile on a kid’s face so big and looking around the room saying, “I beat this guy.” It was one of my first, probably, might have been my first successful intervention as a school counselor, but it taught me that, you know, the beauty of the small win and I’ve kept, I think really kept that through my whole career: The beauty of the small win.
I remember telling a former student of mine who had an especially difficult family life, that I was impressed with how she made it to school every day, that few people probably realized how much of an accomplishment it was for her just to keep going. She said that recognition of her silent persistence made a huge impact on her. And sometimes those seemingly small things also make a difference on us, on counselors like they did for Bob.
So I tell the story of Benny — I’ve made up that name for him — but, Benny, wasn’t doing too well in high school. And you know, I’m like Monty Hall, I’m doing, “Let’s make a deal. Let’s make a deal. Let’s make a deal.” I’m getting him through adult ed, through everything else to make up credits and close to graduation night. And graduation is at 7:00. Benny’s going to finish his adult ed class at 5:00. Benny comes from walking into the office because we all, of course, we stayed late for graduation night. So I’m at the front office. Benny comes walking down the hallway from the adult ed with the certificate, hands me the certificate, I reach under the desk. I said, “Congratulations, you’re a high school graduate.” And he walks two hours later with his, with his, uh, robe and his and his hat.
But that’s only the first part of the story. And it goes to why I’m so passionate about CTE and career stuff because he graduates. And I was really proud of him and his mom was proud and everything like that, except she calls me up a couple of months later, and she says, “Well, what’s next for Benny?” I said, “Well, what are you speaking to?” She goes, she goes, “He’s home watching Gilligan’s Island. He’s not doing anything. He doesn’t know what to do. He didn’t sign up for community college. He didn’t do this. You know? So what’s next?” And I felt really bad. I felt like I really kind of failed him. You know, I said, so it’s a bittersweet story, but I made myself a promise that wasn’t going to happen again.
Benny’s story prompted Bob to begin a simple practice of implementing an exit interview with each of his high school graduates, where he intentionally asked each senior, what are you going to be doing next fall at this time? What are you going to be doing day to day after graduation?
I kind of talked to stories that where I learned something, I learned something from, from the students and that, that, that was an important, important lesson. You know, that the students, I think teach me in a way
Bob’s stories remind me of a Mother Teresa quote that I found on a bookmark just the other day that says, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
Our thanks to Bob and check out the link on our website to the SPARC Report Card that school counselors across California use. It’s at sparconline.net. It’s impressive. Of course, we’d love to hear your stories of small or great things and would especially love to hear any end-of-the-school-year stories about prom or awards ceremonies or graduation. If you’re thinking, “Ooh, you’d love this story” then either drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about it, or record it before you forget it on our online soundbooth at inspiresuccess.org/soundbooth.
Thanks as always for listening and for telling your friends about us, and be sure to let us hear from you. Have a great week.