For many school counselors the last two years have been rough, but imagine what recent school counselor graduates must be going through. For perspective, new counselor Cal Beneze shares his unique insights this week with advice on how to make it through.
This Week's Storyteller
Cal Beneze is a first-year School Counselor at Notre Dame Preparatory High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. He received his Master of Education in School Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating this past summer. In his spare time, Cal enjoys watching sports (he’s a big Boston sports fan and is an Arizona State University Sun Devils fan), golfing, exercising (hot yoga, running, weight lifting), and reading psychological non-fiction books. He truly enjoys connecting with his students and helping them both in high school and helping them get into college.
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Welcome back to this week’s Encouraging Words for School Counselors podcast. I’m Matt Fleck with Inspire Success.
As some of you know, we started these short podcasts last fall as a way to support school counselors and student services personnel in this extra stressful period of Covid when everyone –- from students to ourselves –- continue to be challenged by the effects of the pandemic.
I often forget that many new school counselors started their first jobs as counselors during this crazy time. Cal Beneze in Scottsdale, Arizona is one of them. He was a counselor intern last year when Covid struck in March and he could tell a distinct difference in his ability to connect with students.
You will get, like, New Year’s Day as a fresh start and I think in a lot of ways, a lot of kids and even parents look at, you know, September 1st or the beginning of the school year as a fresh start, too. So to be doing things one way all the way more than halfway through the year with only really, you know, what? Two plus months left in the school year. I think making that mental transition was tough for a lot of students. I was definitely able to connect with some, but definitely not as many students as I have my first year at my school as a counselor.
For Cal, being face-to-face with students instead of virtual greatly improved his ability to connect with his students. It also reassured him that choosing to be a school counselor was the right choice for him.
Right now I have freshmen, sophomores, and juniors with the last names of K through Q, and I’m going to travel with them next year. So I’ll have sophomore juniors, and seniors. We typically have a freshman counselor and we do, but just with me being new, they didn’t want to give me any seniors that I didn’t know for letters of recommendation and things like that, which I think is responsible and smart. But anyway, I have freshmen and one of these freshmen makes a meeting with me and this freshmen is not in my alpha. She is the freshman counselor’s student and I caught that right away. The day before the meeting, I let the freshmen counselor know. And so I was like, I’ll just bring her to you when she comes. And so she actually, just coincidentally, the counselor was in the bathroom or something at the time and so she met with me anyway.
I was like, Hey yeah, no, we can meet, um, well, you know, Ms. Lopez is in the bathroom, but actually, I don’t know if you know, but she is actually your counselor. She’s like, oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. So we were chatting for five minutes. I was like, well, in the meantime, tell me what’s going on. And so she was telling me, and I think I connected with her because we both have, like, we’re diagnosed ADHD and she was dealing with some complications from that. And so I was like, you know, your friend, Mr B here also dealt with that and I know that it can be a struggle. And then literally five minutes later, the freshman counselor comes in and we kind of have a group meeting since I was already in there, but they finished off together.
And then lo and behold, I get an email that night from the parents and from the student saying, Hey, um, you know, I just feel like this is the right thing for me. I really want to be with you. I feel like you’re someone that I really connect with. And I think that’s something for a counselor who was virtual, didn’t have a lot of those wins, didn’t have a lot of those moments, those affirmations, like, “Hey, you’re making a difference.”
So doing that within five minutes of meeting me, asked to switch counselors because they felt there was a connection. Those are those moments where you say, okay, I’m helping, I’m connecting, I’m making a difference with my students. And so, I feel like for me, the confidence was always there that I could do that, but there was never — not never — but there were very few moments last year where there was that affirmation, just because like, no matter how much talking face to face you can do through a screen, it’s just not the same as in-person. It’s just not. I just feel like that was an experience for me where I was, it was definitely affirming for me. Like, I’m making a difference, but also, like, I got into the right field.
Cal says he has confidence at his core that he can be an effective school counselor, but there were times in the last year when he thought (like many of us), “Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing.” So, he followed the protocols he learned in his master’s degree program for situations such as a student with suicidal ideation. And for all the rest that’s not covered in college, he simply had to have confidence that he could do it.
My senior year in high school psychology teacher, I remember this quote. He said, your ability to BS in life is going to be crucial. And not that I think anything that I do is BS, but I do believe that confidence is something you do. I believe you do have to fake it till you make it a little bit. And your students are looking for someone that knows what they’re talking about, or at least acts like they know what they’re talking about. They’re not going to know when you mess up as long as you deliver things confidently. So I think, I think that’s something that I tried to communicate with some of my peers and I was like, look, I, I don’t have all the answers, but I’m going to act like I do because these students are looking for that. And I think, frankly, some of them couldn’t wrap their heads around that, but that’s, I mean, everyone’s different — that’s what makes the human experience so beautiful. You know?
If you’re a new school counselor or social worker, hang in there. And if you’re a veteran, make sure the new and newer counselors know that you’re there to support them.
That’s all for this week’s podcast, except for my weekly plea to take a moment and share a story of your work as a counselor with us; perhaps something that worked well with one of your students, or something happened that’s unique to this time of Covid, or a potentially negative interaction that turned out okay. It’s really YOU and your stories that make the podcast work — not us. And you can easily record your thoughts at our online soundbooth at inspiresuccess.org/soundbooth where you can also find past episodes of the Encouraging Words for School Counselors podcast.
Thanks for sharing your stories with us and thanks for listening.